Integrated fox control for urban and semi-urban areas
Learn about red fox (fox) control methods in urban and semi-urban areas where many of the traditional methods of control are not suitable.
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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:
- Fox densities are higher in urban areas than rural areas.
- 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.
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 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 the department, Local government, 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 permit.
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/district 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.
- 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. In urban areas where shooting and 1080 baiting are not feasible the following control measures may be suitable:
- harbour removal
- den fumigation and ripping
- property hygiene
- exclusion fencing
- guardian animals.
4. 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/below acceptable thresholds?
- What is working well? What could be improved?
- Do you need to change your plan? Have you managed all the risks?
5. Follow up
Continue monitoring on an ongoing basis. Act when you see signs of fox activity.
Fox control must be ongoing as fox populations rapidly rebound after control.
Remember, fox control is time-consuming and there is no quick-fix solution.
Controlling foxes in urban and semi-urban areas usually requires a different strategy than control programs executed in rural districts due to the unsuitability of using 1080 pest animal bait products in more built-up areas.
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 Pest Animal Bait Products 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 Pest Animal Bait Products in Victoria.
For more information about Victoria's 1080 pest animal bait system.
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 June to July. Cubs are born during August to September. The vixen may have 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 in Victoria.
Please refer to the product label for detailed instructions on the use of carbon monoxide den fumigants.
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 as harbour. Above-ground harbour aids fox survival by protecting them from the elements and predators.
To limit the use of above-ground harbour:
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 1.2m – 1.9m 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 wires 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 fox diets, therefore controlling rabbits on your property may also help to reduce the number of foxes in the area.
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.
Shooting is not suitable for urban areas. The technique is labour intensive, is dangerous in built-up areas and requires appropriate licences. Foxes quickly re-invade from surrounding areas. Fox drives or battues are also unsuitable for urban areas.
Trapping is not cost effective as the technique is labour intensive and foxes quickly re-invade from surrounding areas. Confinement traps may be used in urban areas but has animal welfare implications. Confinement traps must be check at a maximum interval of 24 hours or 48 hours if food, water and shelter are provided.
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 Research Centre 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.