No quick fix for Wollongong harbour fox, council says

Outfoxed: The fox has been spotted hunting in bins around Levendi, and heading towards City Beach Function Centre in the early morning. Pictures: Sylvia Liber, Vera Cavanagh.

Outfoxed: The fox has been spotted hunting in bins around Levendi, and heading towards City Beach Function Centre in the early morning. Pictures: Sylvia Liber, Vera Cavanagh.

If you kill off one fox, does another pop up in its place?

That’s the theory behind Wollongong City Council’s refusal to eradicate a wily visitor with a taste for fish and chips which has recently started startling early morning exercisers at Wollongong Harbour.

Resident Vera Cavanagh encountered the fox “hunting in bins” outside Levendi’s and near City Beach Function Centre during her morning run in recent weeks.

Concerned about native wildlife and her own welfare, she contacted the council in the hope it would take action.

Instead she was informed that this would not be possible, as “science” and the council’s direct experience with foxes suggested a “replacement fox” would be waiting to take its place.

“The issue is that there is very good evidence that exterminating individual foxes does very little in the medium term,” the council’s environmental strategy officer Daniel Gibbons told Ms Cavanagh in an email. 

“Within six weeks another fox would be taking up the territory of this one.

“The cost to ratepayers would be approximately $2000 to remove this fox with the likelihood that by spring it would be replaced by another, or perhaps more.”

The cost to ratepayers would be approximately $2000 to remove this fox with the likelihood that by spring it would be replaced by another, or perhaps more.

Wollongong council, on fox catching.

This “dismissive” approach has surprised Ms Cavanagh, who questioned the notion that “a replacement fox is waiting on the sideline to step in”.

“To also conclude that multiple foxes would overtake Brighton Beach is disheartening,” she said.

“Am I wrong in saying that foxes are vermin? If that was a stray dog down there they’d be there in a flash.”

After a further exchange of emails, Mr Gibbons told Ms Cavanagh he would ask the council’s rabbit control program to “keep an eye out for a fox in case they can eliminate it as part of their operations”.

Under the council’s Vertebrate Pest Animal Policy, only deer and rabbits are “priority pests”, despite foxes being sighted “regularly” in the LGA. A spokesman said fox controls “would have to be sustained and extensive” as foxes were “highly adaptive and resourceful”.

Asked about the “science” behind the “replacement fox”, the spokesman said other foxes would be attracted to the bins around Belmore Basin.

“If there is a ready food source, this would be an attractant to other foxes,” he said.

Fox facts

  1. Native to the United Kingdom, foxes were introduced to Australia in the 1870s for recreational hunting purposes.
  2. Foxes are considered a threat to many kinds of native birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, including endangered or declining animals like the bilby, night parrot, green tortoise and  bridled nail-tail wallaby.
  3. Foxes are extremely cunning and difficult to trap, and they are excellent climbers and diggers. 
  4. Poisoning foxes in rural areas is impractical because of the risks posed to domestic dogs.
  5. Urban environments are highly productive for foxes and can support population densities up to 10 times greater than in rural areas.
  6. Although mostly nocturnal, they can be occasionally seen out and about during the day.
  7. Foxes will kill small domestic pets and livestock such as rabbits, guinea pigs, poultry and aviary birds, as well as native animals.
  8. Foxes will rarely attack or even interact with domestic cats and dogs.
  9. Foxes are known to turn over garbage bins, dig holes in lawns and disturb the peace through their own vocalisations and by making dogs bark.
  10. According to the Department of Primary Indistries, a more immediate problem is that of hydatids (tapeworms) and the fact that even at a low incidence of infection, foxes are a risk to human health.