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The aim of this code of practice is to provide information and guidance to vertebrate pest managers responsible for the control of foxes. Control programs aim to reduce the negative impacts of foxes using the most humane, target specific, cost effective and efficacious techniques available.
This code of practice (COP) is adopted nationally. Jurisdictions can apply more stringent requirements as long as they retain the principles set out in these codes. The COP should only be used subject to the applicable legal requirements (including OH&S) operating in the relevant jurisdiction.
There is an expectation that animal suffering associated with pest management be minimised. The most humane methods that will achieve the control program’s aims must be used. Consideration of animal suffering should occur regardless of the status given to a particular pest species or the extent of the damage or impact created by that pest. While the ecological and economic rationales for the control of pests such as the fox are frequently documented, little attention has been paid to the development of an ethical framework in which these pests are controlled. An ethical approach to pest control includes the recognition of and attention to the welfare of all animals affected directly or indirectly by control programs. Ensuring such approaches are uniformly applied as management practices requires the development of agreed Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for pest animal control. These SOPs are written in a way that describes the procedures involved for each control technique as applied to each of the major pest animal species. While SOPs address animal welfare issues applicable to each technique, a Code of Practice (COP) is also required that bring together these procedures into a document which also specifies humane control strategies and their implementation. COP’s encompass all aspects of controlling a pest animal species. This includes aspects of best practice principles, relevant biological information, guidance on choosing the most humane and appropriate control technique and how to most effectively implement management programs.
This code is based on current knowledge and experience in the area of fox control and will be revised as required to take into account advances in knowledge and development of new control techniques and strategies.
Pest animal – native or introduced, wild or feral, non-human species of animal that is currently troublesome locally, or over a wide area, to one or more persons, either by being a health hazard, a general nuisance, or by destroying food, fibre, or natural resources (Koehler, 1964).
Welfare – an animals’ state as regards its attempts to cope with its environment (Broom, 1999). Welfare includes the extent of any difficulty in coping or any failure to cope; it is a characteristic of an individual at a particular time and can range from very good to very poor. Pain and suffering are important aspects of poor welfare, whereas good welfare is present when the nutritional, environmental, health, behavioural, and mental needs of animals are met. When welfare is good, suffering is absent (Littin et al., 2004).
Humane Vertebrate Pest Animal Control – the development and selection of feasible control programs and techniques that avoid or minimise pain, suffering and distress to target and non-target animals (RSPCA, 2004).
Best Practice Management – a structured and consistent approach to the management of vertebrate pests in an attempt to achieve enduring and cost-effective outcomes. ‘Best practice’ is defined as the best practice agreed at a particular time following consideration of scientific information and accumulated experience (Braysher, 1993).
From an animal welfare perspective, it is highly desirable that pest control programs affect a minimum number of individuals and that effort is sustained so that pest densities always remain at a low level. Over the last decade, the approach to managing pest animals has changed. Rather than focussing on killing as many pests as possible, it is now realised that like most other aspects of agriculture or nature conservation, pest management needs to be carefully planned and coordinated. Pest animal control is just one aspect of an integrated approach to the management of production and natural resource systems. Most pests are highly mobile and can readily replace those that are killed in control programs. Unless actions are well planned and coordinated across an area, individual control programs are unlikely to have a lasting effect. When planning pest management, there are some important steps that should be considered (after Braysher & Saunders, 2002).
Implementing effective and humane pest control programs requires a basic understanding of the ecology and biology of the targeted pest species and in some cases those species affected directly (non-targets) or indirectly (prey species) by a control program. It is also essential to understand the impact created by the pest i.e. what is the problem? Managers should take the time to make themselves aware of such information by reading the recommended texts at the end of this code of practice. A brief summary follows.
The red fox is widely distributed throughout the southern half of mainland Australia and can survive in habitats ranging from arid through to alpine as well as urban. The only limitations on distribution appear to be the presence of dingoes, at least in some areas, and the tropical climate of northern Australia. In non-urban areas it appears to be most abundant in fragmented habitats typically found in agricultural landscapes. These offer a wide variety of cover, natural food and den sites. Density estimates in Australia, although few, range from 0.2 adults per square kilometre in coastal forest up to 12 adults per square kilometre in urban populations (Saunders et al.1995)
Females reproduce only once a year. Gestation lasts 51–53 days with most cubs born during August and September. Mean litter size is four up to a maximum of about ten. Both sexes become sexually mature from ten months of age. Although social groups of one male and several vixens do exist, most foxes are thought to have only one mate. Males may also leave their normal territory temporarily in search of other mating opportunities.
Fox groups generally have well-defined home ranges with spatially stable borders. The size of a home range depends on the productivity of the environment e.g. 500 hectares in temperate agricultural areas to 30 hectares in urban areas. Foxes are mostly active from dusk to dawn and rarely travel more than ten kilometres per day within their home range. Dispersal is common, particularly in sub-adult males. It commences in late summer and continues through to the onset of breeding in winter. Exceptional dispersal distances of over 300 kilometres have been recorded with averages of between 2–40 kilometres.
Although predominantly carnivorous, the fox is an opportunistic predator and scavenger with no specialised food requirements. Diet studies conducted in Australia show sheep, rabbits and house mice to be the most common food items.
The fox has long been recognised as a serious threat to Australian native fauna. Native Australian fauna did not evolve with the fox and hence have few predation avoidance strategies; a problem further compounded by habitat fragmentation since European settlement. For example, foxes have been identified as a factor limiting the success of seven out of ten mainland reintroductions of native fauna. The best evidence of the primary role foxes play in population regulation of some native fauna comes from Western Australia. Fox control results not only in substantial increases in the population of some marsupials, but also wider habitat use once predation pressure had been removed. However, for some native species, other factors beside predation may be operating. For example, it has been shown that factors which affect food for mallee fowl chicks may also need to be addressed in addition to predation.
There is debate about the extent to which foxes are a useful biocontrol agent for rabbits and the need to manage foxes when rabbit populations are reduced in order to prevent increased fox predation on native fauna. Foxes undoubtedly exert some control over rabbits, but not when conditions are favourable for growth of rabbit populations. In areas where native wildlife is at significant risk from fox predation, fox management should be considered as part of rabbit control.
The economic impact of foxes in Australia has been poorly studied but the principal losses almost certainly involve newborn lambs. Earlier studies on the causes of lamb loss generally dismiss predation as being insignificant on a state or national level. More recent evidence suggests that foxes may take from 10–30% of lambs in some areas. As well as affecting lamb production, foxes eat fruit and therefore can act as a vector for weeds. They also eat grapes and chew plastic irrigation equipment.
Recent studies have revealed that foxes carry hydatidosis, a zoonotic disease. Physical contact with foxes or their faeces may therefore pose a public health risk. The fox could also act as a carrier of rabies, should the disease accidentally be introduced into Australia. Rabies mostly affects members of the dog family, but can also be passed on to humans, livestock and native mammals.
Strategies used in agricultural protection have mostly been determined by the biology of the livestock being protected rather than the biology of the fox. As such, these techniques have been mostly employed on a reactionary or short-term basis, without due consideration for sustained reduction. Conservation management strategies focus on alleviating fox predation on wildlife species by culling foxes from an area using poisoned baits and exclusion fencing. By necessity, such control effort should be sustained. There are three essential requirements for a pest control technique – necessity, effectiveness and humaneness. The best strategy is to develop a plan which maximizes the effect of control operations and reduces the need to cull large numbers of animals on a regular basis.
Fox control techniques have the potential to cause animals to suffer. To minimise this suffering the most humane techniques that will achieve the control program’s aims must be used. This will be the technique that causes the least amount of pain and suffering to the target animal with the least harm or risk to non-target animals, people and the environment. The technique should also be effective in the situation where it will be used (e.g. cage traps will have little effect in a rural setting). It is also important to remember that the humaneness of a technique is highly dependant on whether or not it is correctly employed. In selecting techniques it is therefore important to consider whether sufficient resources are available to fully implement that technique.
Foxes are a highly mobile and invasive species. Apart from perhaps providing very short term protection or eliminating a particular rogue animal, isolated efforts at fox control will have minimal effect on fox populations or on the impact caused by foxes.
Attempting to control foxes on an individual property with out the support of neighbours rarely succeeds. Working with groups of neighbours more effectively controls foxes over larger areas limits re-invasion and is more cost effective due to the sharing of labour and equipment.
The most commonly used fox control techniques are lethal baiting, shooting, trapping, den fumigation, and exclusion fencing. Other measures such as the use of guard animals have been promoted in recent years but not yet fully evaluated in Australia (Saunders & McLeod, 2007). Fertility control through immunocontraception or by other chemical means is not currently a viable broadscale control option despite considerable research into their development.
The scale of problems involving fox predation, ranging in size from a small poultry shed to a large national park or agricultural region, can determine the most appropriate means of control or conversely the effectiveness of control in individual situations. For example, aerial baiting would be the most cost-effective strategy over large areas whereas the use of guard dogs would only be suitable on a property basis. Similarly, the use of fertility control would be of little benefit in protecting small-scale enterprises. Cost-effectiveness, humaneness and efficacy for each control technique are useful in deciding the most appropriate strategy. A brief evaluation of the humaneness of control techniques follows:
Fertility control is seen as a preferred method of broadscale fox control as it offers a potential humane and target specific alternative to lethal methods. However, no effective fertility control agents are currently available for broadscale use against foxes in Australia.
The use of exclusion fencing is generally regarded as a humane, non-lethal alternative to lethal control methods. However, the high costs of establishing and maintaining fox-proof enclosures, limits their use to the management of threatened or endangered species. Although exclusion fencing acts as a barrier to foxes it can have negative effects on non-target species by altering dispersion and foraging patterns, and causing entanglement and electrocution. It can also create a significant hazard to wildlife in the event of a bushfire.
The use of guard animals to protect herd animals (e.g. sheep, goats, poultry) from external threats is also seen as a humane alternative or adjunct to conventional lethal fox control. Dogs, alpacas, llamas and donkeys can be used to repel predators, alert owners to disturbances in the flock and reduce reliance on less humane forms of control.
Alpacas, llamas and donkeys have advantages over guard dogs as they require minimal supervision and can be managed in a similar manner to the livestock being protected. Dogs, on the other hand, require training and supervision to ensure that they do not injure or kill stock and wildlife or wander onto other properties. Owners must provide dogs with adequate feed and water, as well as regular maintenance and monitoring to protect them from adverse environmental conditions, disease, injury and distress.
Lethal baiting is considered to be the most effective method of fox control currently available; however not all poisons are equally humane. Depending on the poison used, target animals can experience pain and suffering, sometimes for an extended period, before death. Non-target animals including native species, working dogs and livestock stock can also be exposed to poisons either directly by eating baits intended for pest animals (primary poisoning) or through the scavenging of tissues from a poisoned animal (secondary poisoning). Sodium fluoroacetate (1080) and strychnine are the poisons currently used for fox control in Australia.
In carnivores, poisoning from 1080 is typified by severe central nervous system disturbance, convulsions, hyperexcitability, vocalising and ultimately respiratory failure. 1080 is more acceptable as a lethal control method than strychnine, although the humaneness of its actions is not yet fully understood. It is thought that during the initial onset of signs (e.g. manic running, yelping and shrieking, retching); the animal is likely to be conscious and capable of suffering. However, during the latter stages, when the animal shows signs of central nervous system disturbance including collapse, convulsions and tetanic spasms, suffering may not occur.
Strychnine baits are inhumane because the affected animals remain conscious and appear to suffer pain and anxiety from the onset of clinical signs through to death from asphyxia and exhaustion. It has been recommended by the National Consultative Committee on Animal Welfare that the sale and use of strychnine be banned in Australia. The use of strychnine in fox baits is currently being phased out in all States and Territories.
Shooting can be a humane method of destroying foxes when it is carried out by experienced, skilled and responsible shooters; the animal can be clearly seen and is within range; and the correct firearm, ammunition and shot placement is used.
Wounded foxes must be located and dispatched as quickly and humanely as possible.
If lactating vixens are shot, reasonable efforts should be made to find dependent cubs and kill them quickly and humanely.
Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless gas that causes oxygen depletion leading to unconsciousness and death without pain or discernible discomfort. Fumigation of fox natal dens appears to be a humane method of fox destruction provided that high enough concentrations of CO to bring about a rapid death can be introduced into the den; that cubs are sufficiently grown (> 4 weeks old) to be fully susceptible to the effects of CO; and, that animals are not directly exposed to high temperatures during combustion of the cartridges.
Carbon monoxide is the only fumigant registered for foxes. Other fumigants, e.g. chloropicrin and phosphine, are not registered for use against foxes and must not be used for den fumigation. These fumigants, particularly chloropicrin, are not considered humane as the animals are likely to suffer for extended periods before death.
All traps have the potential to cause injury and some degree of suffering and distress so should only be used when no practical alternative exists. Traps that contain an animal (e.g. cage or box traps) cause fewer injuries than traps that restrain an animal (e.g. leg-hold traps). Animals caught in a cage trap are not likely to experience significant injuries unless they make frantic attempts to escape. Importantly, non-target animals that are caught in cage traps can usually be released unharmed. Leg-hold traps on the other hand can cause serious injuries to both target and non-target animals such as swelling and lacerations to the foot from pressure of the trap jaws and dislocation of a limb if the animal struggles to escape. Foxes can also inflict injuries to their feet and legs by chewing on the captured limb, and to their teeth, lips and gums by chewing at the trap jaws. If leg-hold traps are used, they must have a rubber-like padding on each jaw which cushions the initial impact and provides friction thus preventing the captured leg from sliding along or out of the jaws. Toothed, steel-jaw traps must not be used as they cause significant injury, pain and distress. The use of toothed, steel-jaw traps is being phased out in all States and Territories.
Treadle snares are a humane alternative to the toothed, steel-jawed trap but they can be difficult to set, are bulky to carry and may miss more target animals. The Collarum® is a relatively new device that throws a loop over the animals head after it has pulled on a trigger. This spring-powered neck snare has been shown to be target specific and produce only low injury scores. The Ecotrap® comprises a flexible metal frame and netting which collapses over the animal when it is triggered entangling it within the soft net. This trap also reportedly causes fewer injuries to the trapped animal compared to leg-hold devices.
As well as injuries, trapped animals can suffer from exposure, thirst, starvation, shock, capture myopathy and predation; therefore traps should be placed in a suitable area protected from extremes of weather and must be inspected at least once daily. Traps should not be set where there is a risk of entanglement with fences or thick vegetation as this can also cause injury to the fox. Trapped animals should be approached carefully and quietly to minimise panic, further stress and risk of injury. Foxes must be destroyed as quickly and humanely as possible with a single rifle shot to the brain. If lactating vixens are caught in a trap, efforts should be made to find dependent cubs and kill them quickly and humanely. Non-target animals that are caught but not severely injured should be released at the trap site. If they are injured, but may respond to veterinary treatment, such treatment should be sought. Severely injured non-target animals must be destroyed quickly and humanely.
Table 1: Humaneness, Efficacy, Cost-effectiveness and Target Specificity of Fox Control Methods
|Control technique||Acceptability of technique with regard to humaneness*||Efficacy||Cost-effectiveness||Target Specificity||Comments|
|Fertility control||Conditionally acceptable||Unknown||Unknown||Depends on agent used||No products currently registered.|
|Exclusion fencing||Acceptable||Limited||Expensive||Can be in certain situations||Useful for protection of threatened wildlife species and other valuable animals. Expensive, therefore impractical for broad scale application.|
|Guard animals (e.g. dogs, alpacas, llamas, donkeys)||Acceptable||Unknown||Unknown||Guard dogs may chase or attack non-target animals e.g. native wildlife, pet dogs, livestock||Likely to be only effective for small to medium enterprises. At the moment, evidence on broad scale effectiveness remains anecdotal.|
|Ground baiting with 1080||Conditionally acceptable||Effective||Cost-effective||Potential risk of poisoning non-target animals. Strategic ground baiting uses fewer baits than aerial baiting programs. Uneaten baits can be collected and destroyed.||Currently the most cost-effective technique available. 1080 ingestion can also kill non-target animals including native species, cats, dogs and livestock. 1080 is toxic to humans; operators need to take precautions to safeguard against exposure.|
|Aerial baiting with 1080||Conditionally acceptable||Effective||Cost-effective||Potential risk of poisoning non-target animals as uneaten baits cannot be collected. Regionally specific techniques can be applied to minimise this risk.||Effective for broad scale control in remote areas. 1080 ingestion can also kill non-target animals including native species, cats, dogs and livestock. 1080 is toxic to humans; operators need to take precautions to safeguard against exposure.|
|Strychnine baiting||Not acceptable||Potential risk of poisoning non-target animals||Inhumane and should not be used. Alternatives are available|
|Ground shooting||Acceptable||Not effective||Not cost-effective||Target specific||Labour intensive, only suitable for smaller scale operations.|
|Den fumigation with carbon monoxide||Conditionally acceptable||Not effective||Not cost-effective||Target specific if den is monitored for non-target use prior to fumigation||Useful for localised fox problems where baiting and shooting is not an option, not effective for broad scale control. Carbon monoxide is toxic to humans; operators need to take precautions to safeguard against exposure.|
|Cage traps||Acceptable||Not effective||Not cost-effective||May catch non-target animals but they can usually be released unharmed||Useful only in urban areas for problem animals.|
|Eco-traps®||Acceptable||Not effective||Not cost-effective||May catch non-target animals but they can usually be released unharmed||May be useful in urban areas for problem animals, where baiting is inappropriate or where live-capture is required for research purposes.|
|Padded-jaw traps||Conditionally acceptable||Not effective||Not cost-effective||Risk of catching non-target animals but they can usually be released unharmed. Some species may experience severe injuries.||May be useful for problem animals but are inefficient for general control. Effectiveness depends on skill of operator|
|Treadle snares||Conditionally acceptable||Not effective||Not cost-effective||Risk of catching non-target animals but they can usually be released unharmed. Some species may experience severe injuries.||May be useful for problem animals but are inefficient for general control. Difficult to set.|
|Collarum® neck restraints||Conditionally acceptable||Not effective||Not cost-effective||More selective than other devices. The baited top and capture mechanism is relatively species-specific, and the mechanics of the device make capture of other species unlikely.||May be useful in urban areas for problem animals. Can be difficult top set.|
|Toothed, steel-jaw traps||Not acceptable||Not effective||Not cost-effective||Risk of catching and causing severe injury and distress to non-target animals||Inhumane and must not be used. Alternatives are available|
*Acceptable methods are those that are humane when used correctly.
*Conditionally acceptable methods are those that, by the nature of the technique, may not be consistently humane. There may be a period of poor welfare before death.
*Methods that are not acceptable are considered to be inhumane. The welfare of the animal is very poor before death, often for a prolonged period.
For regional variations on control techniques refer to local legislation and regulations. For additional examples refer to the Humane Pest Animal Control Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).
SOPs are currently available for the following fox control methods below:
All those involved in pest animal control should familiarise themselves with relevant aspects of the appropriate federal and state or territory legislation. The table below gives examples of some of the relevant legislation. This list is by no means exhaustive and is current at September 2012.
|Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Code Act 1994
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
|Pest Plants and Animals Act 2005
Medicines, Poisons and Therapeutic Goods Act 2008
Animal Welfare Act 1992
Nature Conservation Act 1980
Animal Diseases Act 2005
Prohibited Weapons Act 1996
Firearms Act 1996
Environment Protection Act 1997
|New South Wales
|Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979
Pesticides Act 1999
Rural Lands Protection Act 1998
National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974
Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995
Wild Dog Destruction Act 1921
Game and Feral Animal Control Act 2002
Deer Act 2006
Non-Indigenous Animals Act 1987
Exhibited Animals Protection Act 1986
|Animal Welfare Act
Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act
Poisons and Dangerous Drugs Act
|Animal Care and Protection Act 2001
Health (Drugs and Poisons) Regulation 1996
Land Protection (Pest and Stock Route Management) Act 2002
Nature Conservation Act 1992
|Animal Welfare Act 1985
Natural Resources Management Act 2004
Controlled Substances Act 1984
National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972
Dog Fence Act 1946
Fisheries Management Act 2007
|Animal Welfare Act 1993
Vermin Control Act 2000
Poisons Act 1971
Agricultural And Veterinary Chemical (Control of Use) Act 1995
Nature Conservation Act 2002
Police Offences Act 1935
Cat Management Act 2009
|Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986
Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994
Agriculture and Veterinary Chemicals (Control of Use) Act 1992
Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981
Wildlife Act 1975
Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988
National Parks Act 1975
|Biosecurity and Agriculture Management Act 2007
Animal Welfare Act 2002
Agriculture and Related Resources Protection Act 1976
Wildlife Conservation Act 1950
|Other relevant legislation
Occupational Health and Safety Acts
Dangerous Goods or Substances Acts
Civil Aviation Acts
Note: copies of the above legislation and relevant regulations may be obtained from federal, state and territory publishing services.