Integrated fox control for rural and natural landscapes
Learn integrated red fox (fox) control methods for rural and natural landscapes.
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Why manage foxes?
- In Victoria red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) are declared as established pest animals under the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994.
- Under the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994 land owners have a responsibility to take all reasonable steps to prevent the spread of, and as far as possible eradicate, established pest animals from their land.
Foxes are one of Australia's most serious pest animals. Their primary impact is predation of livestock and native animals. If rabies is introduced to Australia foxes would pose a major biosecurity threat as a vector of the disease.
In 2004 foxes were estimated to have an annual economic impact of over $227 million dollars nationally.
Don't encourage foxes to become pets by feeding them. It is illegal to keep or sell established pest animals such as foxes without a permit.
Before you begin: Fox biology and behaviour
Before designing your fox control program, it is important to understand fox behaviour and characteristics. Following are some points that should to be considered in the design of your program:
- Foxes are highly mobile and can travel up to 10km per night.
- Fox populations are very resilient to conventional methods of control. Rapid re-invasion of areas occurs after control measures are implemented. Plan to manage the impacts of foxes rather than focusing on killing foxes.
Further information on fox characteristics and behaviour.
Management of foxes on your property
Points to remember
- Effective fox control is best achieved by using a combination of control measures, not just one and by working across a landscape, involving the whole community, rather than just on individual properties.
- Be aware that native wildlife may also be using fox harbour. Ensure your fox control program doesn't affect native wildlife.
- If any fox control work is to be undertaken which may result in disturbance of native vegetation, culturally significant areas and/or waterways, contact should be made with the responsible authorities prior to works being conducted. The responsible authorities may include Local government, Agriculture Victoria, Aboriginal Affairs Victoria or the local Registered Aboriginal Party, and the local Catchment Management Authority.
- If you are planning to use dogs for pest animal control, be mindful that there are specific requirements for the use of dogs for hunting. Under Section 28 of the Domestic Animals Act 1994, a person must not set or urge a dog to attack, bite, rush at or chase any animal except when hunting in accordance with the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 (POCTA). Refer to the POCTA Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals in Hunting for specific information on the use of dogs in hunting.
- If you are planning to use chemicals to treat foxes, all applicable requirements of the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals (Control of Use) Act 1992 and Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals (Control of Use) Regulations 2007 must be met. This includes adhering to the directions for use on the chemical label, keeping the relevant chemical use records and only using 'restricted use chemicals' if you hold the required Agricultural Chemical User Permit or other relevant licence. If you are planning on using a contractor, ensure they hold a Commercial Operator Licence endorsed for vermin (pest animal) control or other applicable commercial licence.
For chemical use record sheets and further information regarding agricultural chemical use, see Agricultural chemicals.
Planning your program
Planning can maximise the effectiveness of fox control while minimising damage to other animals. Consider fox density, distribution and the habitat in which the foxes are living as this will determine what actions are appropriate. The following steps will help in planning.
1. Work together
Coordinate control work with your neighbours. The best results are achieved where neighbours conduct simultaneous fox control across a landscape rather than just on individual properties. Work on your property can be undermined by the inactivity of your neighbours. Talk to your neighbours and local Landcare group and work out a plan for coordinated action.
2. Conduct monitoring
- Identify fox feeding and activity areas in and around your property. Map these areas for future reference. Foxes are often found around rocky outcrops, buildings, wood heaps, rubbish tips, waterways and weedy areas.
- Assess the number of foxes on your property by spotlighting with a powerful torch or spotlight. Remember, for every fox you see there may be up to another four foxes that you don't see.
- Assess the risks to non-target animals when implementing baiting or shooting and record them on a map for later reference.
- Establish a benchmark of the impact of foxes on your property. This will be used to measure the success of your control programs against the impacts of foxes (i.e. impact on lambing percentages, impact on wildlife).
- Use the information you have gained from monitoring to:
- Target your control effort;
- Monitor the progress and success of your control program; and
- Vary and improve your program.
It is important to continue monitoring on an ongoing basis to detect and treat any re-infestation of your property.
3. Use all the tools!
Effective fox management utilises all the available control measures that are feasible on your property.
Baiting is the only single method that can reduce fox numbers by 65% and therefore achieve long-term control. Best results are achieved by focusing your integrated fox control effort around baiting.
The following control measures may be suitable:
- Den fumigation and ripping
- Property hygiene
- Exclusion fencing
- Guardian animals
- Harbour removal
Managing the impact of foxes is best achieved by timing your control efforts to reduce the fox population before the peak of their impact. For example, bait foxes six to eight weeks prior to lambing or the breeding season of ground nesting birds. Continue baiting until first lambs are dropped.
Baiting can occur year round. Best results are achieved with an intermittent "pulse" baiting pattern with poison baits in the ground for one to two months followed by one to three months of baits being removed.
Fumigate and destroy dens August and September.
Shooting can be utilised year round but for best results not while baiting is in progress. For animal welfare reasons, shooting should not occur while vixens have dependant young.
5. Evaluate your success
Conduct a second round of monitoring after your control program.
- Have you destroyed all fox dens?
- Are you still experiencing damage caused by foxes?
- Is the fox damage above or below acceptable thresholds?
- What is working well? What could be improved?
- Do you need to change your plan? Have you managed all the risks?
6. Follow up
Continue monitoring on an ongoing basis. Fox populations will rebound quickly. Plan your fox control as a regular and ongoing component of your property management activities.
Remember, fox control is time-consuming and there is no quick-fix solution.
The most effective means of achieving a sustained reduction in fox numbers is through simultaneous, coordinated community baiting programs, implemented at a landscape scale and supported by other control techniques.
The poison "1080" is a restricted Schedule 7 poison and its use is strictly regulated. 1080 pest animal bait products can only be used by authorised persons who must comply with the Directions for the Use of 1080 and PAPP Pest Animal Bait Products in Victoria and the product label.
In urban areas 1080 use is likely to be limited by the minimum-distance restrictions stated in the Directions for the Use of 1080 and PAPP Pest Animal Bait Products in Victoria.
For more information about Victoria's 1080 pest animal bait system.
The use of free feeds prior to poisoning in target areas, as pre-determined by your spotlight assessment, will assist in establishing a feeding pattern to enable a maximum kill of the target species.
Caching is instinctive survival behaviour of foxes. It is possible for one fox to remove and cache several baits for later consumption. Bait caches may be located outside the boundary of the property where foxes are being poisoned, thereby exposing non-target animals, in particular domestic dogs, to toxic baits.
To reduce the likelihood of bait caching leading to non-target damage, do not continue to replace poison baits over an extended period of time.
If you suspect bait caching is occurring, consider removing baits for a short time before resuming baiting later (pulse baiting).
1080 fox baits registered for use in Victoria may be shelf-stable manufactured baits or fresh meat baits (liver). Shelf-stable baits can be stored for longer than fresh meat baits. Bait type selection is usually determined by local knowledge or user preference.
The optimal baiting rate depends on the density of foxes in your area. Generally bait density should match fox density or be slightly higher. Use local knowledge and the results of monitoring to help determine the optimal baiting rate in your area.
When determining actual baiting rates, always refer to the product label and Directions for the Use of 1080 Pest Animal Bait Products in Victoria.
When to bait
When baiting to reduce the impact of foxes at a critical time of year (lambing or vulnerable stage of native animal lifecycle such as nestling chicks), bait six to eight weeks before anticipated peak impact. If baiting for an extended period (more than one month) consider pulse-baiting to reduce the potential for non-target damage and to increase cost efficiency.
If the aim of baiting is long-term control, then regular baiting needs to be carried out across an entire region with two to four pulses per year. Critical stages of the fox's lifecycle that can be targeted with a baiting program include:
- May, prior to mating when territories are established and the population is stable;
- Between July and October, when fox numbers are at their lowest and prior to pregnant vixens giving birth;
- November, at a point where energy-depletion changes to energy-gain and appetites can be voracious; and
- February, March and April, when naive juveniles with high energy demands are dispersing.
Where to bait
- Fox baits must be buried as per Directions for the Use of 1080 Pest Animal Bait Products in Victoria to reduce the likelihood of non-target damage.
- Baits should be distributed across the property in locations favourable to fox movement that will provide optimum opportunity for baits to be taken.
- Areas favourable to fox movement include vehicle tracks, fence and creek lines, ridges, contour banks, vegetation borders, watering points (remember to follow the Distance Restrictions from the Directions for the Use of 1080 Pest Animal Bait Products in Victoria).
Remember, the larger the area baited, the longer it takes for foxes to infiltrate and re-establish in the core area you wish to protect.
While shooting is the most target-specific and humane form of fox control, hunting alone will not achieve long-term fox control. Shooting is likely to quickly educate foxes making them wary. This often results in difficulty estimating fox numbers as they will be less visible.
Spotlight shooting, particularly in late summer and early autumn, can account for large numbers of foxes. Young cubs can be easily attracted with a fox whistle at this time. The number of foxes taken from an area drops rapidly after a few nights and it tends to target mainly young, vulnerable foxes that are likely to die naturally in their first year of life.
Daylight drives or battues using a line of beaters or the services of recognised fox hunting clubs to drive foxes before guns can be an effective control tool, but is very labour intensive.
The use of firearms to control foxes must conform to relevant firearm legislation and be integrated with other control methods.
Fumigation to destroy fox dens
Fumigation is an effective means of reducing fox numbers. Foxes habitually re-use dens year after year. A vixen is likely to begin excavating prospective dens in April to May. Cubs are born during August to September. The vixen may have a two to three other dens that can be used if the main breeding (natal) den is disturbed.
Where dens containing fox cubs are identified, fumigation should be targeted to when the vixen and cubs are confined to the den during August to October. The vixen is likely to be killed in the den only during the first three weeks after the birth of the cubs. Where the den is accessible to appropriate machinery, deep ripping should be used to destroy it. You should re-visit dens each year in May to June and August to September to measure the fox activity and to fumigate and destroy dens.
A carbon monoxide fumigant is the only registered product for the control of foxes in Victoria. There are no special training requirements or licenses to use carbon monoxide den fumigants to control foxes on your own property in Victoria. However, a contractor must hold a Commercial Operator Licence endorsed for vermin (pest animal) control or other applicable commercial licence.
Above-ground harbour removal
Foxes use a variety of shelter such as rubbish heaps, rocky outcrops, patches of woody weeds, buildings and some forms of native vegetation to harbour. Above-ground harbour aids fox survival by protecting them from the elements and predators.
- Remove prickly and woody weeds (such as gorse, boxthorn and blackberries), rubbish piles and old machinery.
- Fence off rock piles, building materials, hay bales and woodpiles or store them in a manner that does not create a hiding place for foxes. Fence off the underneath of buildings, water tanks and other areas foxes may hide.
- Remember fallen timber may provide harbour for foxes and habitat for native wildlife. If you are planning to remove fallen timber you must ensure that you do not affect native wildlife.
Foxes are agile animals capable of passing through, digging under, jumping over, or even climbing various types of fences. Wire netting with mesh size not exceeding 80 mm (approx 3 inches) will prevent most foxes passing through the fences.
The netting should be 1.2 – 1.9 m high and should be buried to a depth of at least 450 mm. An apron of netting angled outwards for 200 mm at the base provides an added deterrent to digging.
Adding electrified outrigger wires to netting fences help to discourage foxes from climbing. Electrified, plain-wire fences can exclude foxes, spacing of the wire must be close enough to ensure that the fox will get a shock before it has penetrated the fence.
It should be remembered that conventional fences are built as physical barriers whereas electric fences are designed to operate as psychological as well as physical barriers. The change in emphasis means that fence maintenance assumes a critical role and unless the land manager is aware of this, failure of electric fence lines will result in foxes breaching the barrier.
Exclusion fences for the protection of poultry should be fully enclosed to prevent foxes climbing inside.
Animal carcasses should be removed to prevent foxes scavenging on them.
Food scraps (including rubbish bins and compost) and pet food should be removed so as not to encourage foxes onto the property.
Rabbits form a major part of a foxes diets, therefore controlling rabbits on your property will reduce the number of foxes.
Small lambing paddocks should be used to allow easier monitoring of the flock and reduce the chances of young lambs being left unattended a long way from their mothers. Lambing paddocks situated close to the house are also easier to check more frequently.
Some producers have successfully used trained guard dogs (eg. Anatolian shepherds, Maremma sheep dogs) to protect their flocks from fox predation. The presence of domestic dogs may discourage foxes from visiting suburban back yards.
Other management techniques
There are deterrents available that may provide some protection to livestock but will not provide any fox population reduction. Such products should not be relied upon to protect livestock as a stand alone measure.
Trapping is not cost effective as the technique is labour intensive and foxes quickly re-invade from surrounding areas. Trapping also has animal welfare implications.
Any trapping of foxes MUST be carried out in accordance with the requirements of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 (POCTA) and associated regulations.
Trapping has several animal welfare implications and anyone considering trapping should read important further information. See Humane Vertebrate Pest Control.
- McLeod R. (2004) Counting the Cost: Impact of Invasive Animals in Australia 2004. Cooperative ResearchCentre for Pest Animal Control. Canberra.
- Saunders G., Coman B. Kinnear J. & Braysher M. (1995) Managing Vertebrate Pests: Foxes. Bureau of Resource Sciences and CSIRO Division of Wildlife and Ecology. Australian Government Publishing Service Canberra.
- Spotlight on Foxes. (2009) Primary Industries and Resources South Australia.