Integrated fox control
Under the Act, landowners 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. They are predators of livestock and native animals, and carry various endemic diseases such as hydatids and mange. Foxes also have the potential to spread exotic diseases including rabies which would seriously threaten livestock, wildlife and human health should it enter the country.
In 2013 it was estimated that foxes cost Australia more than $35 million in lost production alone. Foxes have devastating impacts on biodiversity, though it is difficult to attribute a cost. Nevertheless, foxes are believed to be the primary cause in the decline of numerous Australian small mammal species. Those particularly vulnerable weigh between 35 and 5500 grams, which is often referred to as the 'critical weight range'.
Do not encourage foxes to become pets by feeding them. It is illegal to keep or sell established pest animals such as foxes without a permit.
Fox biology and behaviour
Before designing your fox control program, it is important to understand fox behaviour and ecology. The following should be considered in the design of your program:
- Foxes are highly mobile and can travel up to 10 km per night.
- Fox populations are very resilient.
- Foxes are highly cryptic and opportunistic.
- Foxes can rapidly reinvade areas after control measures are implemented.
- Foxes have a relatively high rate of reproduction.
Managing foxes on your property
- Effective fox control is best achieved by using a combination of control measures (not just one) and by working across a landscape with your neighbours, rather than just on individual properties.
- Be aware that native wildlife may also be using fox habitat, so ensure your fox control program doesn't adversely affect native wildlife.
- If any fox control work is to be undertaken that may result in disturbance of native vegetation, culturally significant areas and waterways, please contact 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).
- 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 2017 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. Chemical use record sheets and further information regarding agricultural chemical use can be found in our agricultural chemicals section.
Planning your program
Strategic planning can maximise the effectiveness of fox control, while minimising damage to other animals. Consider fox density, distribution and habitat to determine what actions are most appropriate.
The following steps will help with planning.
Coordinate control work with your neighbours. The best results are achieved when neighbours conduct simultaneous fox control across a landscape, rather than just on individual properties. Remember, work on your property can be quickly undermined by the inactivity of your neighbours. Talk to them and your local Landcare group to work out a plan for coordinated action.
Identify fox feeding and activity areas on your property. Map these areas for future reference. Foxes are often found around:
- rocky outcrops
- wood heaps
- rubbish tips
- 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. You may also wish to use remote cameras to determine fox activity on your property. It is also important to the potential risks to non-target animals when implementing baiting or shooting and record them on a map for later reference.
Establish a benchmark of fox damage on your property. This will help measure the success of your control programs later.
Use the information you have gained from monitoring to:
- target your control effort
- monitor the progress and success of your control program
- 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.
Use the right tools
Effective fox management utilises all of the control tools that are suitable on your property in strategic fashion.
Baiting is the best method for broadscale and rapid population knockdowns, so design your integrated fox control program around baiting when it is permissible.
The following control measures may be suitable:
- den fumigation and ripping
- above-ground harbour removal
- property hygiene
- exclusion fencing
- guardian animals.
It is best to implement fox control efforts before the peak of their damage, especially if you plan to bait, as it can be hard to persuade a fox to take baits when they have access to newborn lambs or ground nesting birds.
Baiting can occur year-round, but the best results are achieved with an intermittent 'pulse' baiting pattern with poison baits in the ground for 1 to 2 months followed by 1 to 3 months of baits being removed.
Fumigate and destroy dens during August and September. It is important to fumigate at these times as fox cubs are born during August and September and a vixen will only remain in the den with her cubs during the first three weeks after birth. Remember, a vixen may have two or three other dens to use for breeding if the main breeding (natal) den is disturbed.
Shooting can be utilised year-round but should not be done while baiting is in progress, because it can disrupt animal behaviour and reduce the effectiveness of you baiting program. For animal welfare reasons, shooting should not occur while vixens have dependant young.
Evaluate your success
Conduct a second round of monitoring after your control program using the same methods that you used to monitor prior to undertaking any control. This will help ensure that the results are comparable and that they are an accurate representation of damage/density declines.
- 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?
Continue monitoring on an ongoing basis. Fox populations will rebound quickly, so 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 broadscale fox population knockdown is through coordinated community baiting programs that are also supported by other control techniques.
Two toxins are registered for use on foxes in Victorian including Sodium monofluoroacetate (1080) and Para-aminopropiophenone (PAPP).
1080 (sodium monofluoroacetate) is a lethal poison registered to control:
- wild dogs
- wild or feral pigs.
1080 is derived from a compound found in many Australian native plants. Some Australian native animals have a higher tolerance to 1080, depending on the species. Introduced species such as domestic dogs and cats, livestock and pest species such as rabbits, foxes, wild dogs and wild or feral pigs are highly susceptible to 1080 poisoning.
1080 pest animal bait products registered for fox control in Victoria can be purchased in the form of shelf-stable or perishable bait products.
To purchase and use 1080 pest animal bait products in Victoria you must either:
- have an Agricultural Chemical Users Permit (ACUP) with a 1080 endorsement
- have a Commercial Operators Licence (COL) with a vermin destroyer endorsement
- hold a valid Licence To Use Pesticides (LTUP) with an authorisation for the control of pest animals.
1080 baiting programs should not be implemented where they pose a risk of killing non-target species.
PAPP (Para-aminopropiophenone) is a lethal poison registered to control:
- wild dogs.
PAPP induces the formation of Methaemoglobin by oxidising haemoglobin. This essentially reduces the blood's ability to carry oxygen throughout the body, causing major organs including the heart and brain to shut down. Available data shows a wide range in toxicity of PAPP across mammals, birds and reptiles. In general PAPP is relatively more toxic to carnivores (such as foxes, dogs and cats).
PAPP pest animal bait products registered for fox control in Victoria can only be purchased as shelf-stable baits.
To purchase and use PAPP pest animal bait products in Victoria you must either:
- have an Agricultural Chemical Users Permit (ACUP) with a PAPP endorsement
- have a Commercial Operators Licence (COL) with a vermin destroyer endorsement
- hold a valid Licence To Use Pesticides (LTUP) with an authorisation for the control of pest animals.
Non-target animals, particularly domestic dogs, may be killed as a result of consuming 1080 and PAPP bait.
All baits (including uneaten and unused) must be used in accordance with the Directions for the use of 1080 and PAPP pest animal bait products in Victoria.
1080 fox baits registered for use in Victoria may be shelf-stable manufactured baits or fresh meat baits (liver), whereas PAPP can only be purchased as shelf-stable baits. 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 and PAPP 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 6 to 8 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 2 to 4 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
- 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 and PAPP 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
- contour banks
- vegetation borders
- watering points.
The larger the area baited, the longer it takes for foxes to infiltrate and re-establish in the core area you wish to protect.
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) or incorporating the use of Canid Pest Ejectors.
Canid Pest Ejectors
Canid Pest Ejectors (CPEs) are a relatively new tool for managing foxes and wild dogs in Australia and can essentially be used in the same way as baits.
CPEs are a mechanical device designed to deliver a measured dose of 1080 or PAPP directly into the mouth of foxes and wild dogs. The device is activated when a fox or dog pulls firmly (with a force greater than 1.6 kg) in an upward motion on the lure head. This triggers a spring-loaded mechanism that drives a piston into the poison-filled capsule, which propels its (powder or liquid) contents directly into the mouth of the animal.
Advantages of CPEs:
- Poison capsules are sealed and protected from the weather, meaning the toxin remains viable until the CPE is activated by a fox or wild dog.
- The device is driven into the ground with only the lure head protruding, therefore it cannot be easily moved or cached by target or non-target species.
- The device can only be activated by an upward pull force greater than 1.6 kg, which is difficult for many smaller non-target species to achieve (confirmed via extensive field research).
- The CPEs can be used many times as long as they are well maintained.
- A variety of lure heads can be used to optimise the attractiveness of the CPEs to foxes.
Limitations of CPEs:
- Lure heads deteriorate over time so they must be replaced periodically to ensure they remain attractive.
- CPEs are a risk to domestic dogs as they can also achieve the required pull force required to activate the device. This requires that working or pet dogs be prevented from roaming in areas where CPEs are active, so that they do not encounter and potentially trigger a CPE.
1080 and PAPP capsules can be purchased for use on foxes in Victoria, but users must have appropriate accreditation such as an Agricultural Chemical Users Permit (ACUP) with a 1080 and PAPP endorsement. It is also important to be familiar with all Label Directions and the Directions for the Use of 1080 and PAPP Pest Animal Bait Products in Victoria.
While shooting is the most target-specific and humane form of fox control, hunting alone will not achieve long-term population reductions. Shooting is likely to quickly educate foxes and make 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
Carbon monoxide (CO) is used to fumigate active breeding or natal dens. A tasteless and odourless gas, CO binds to the haemoglobin in red blood cells at a faster rate than oxygen (O) is able to. This results in a loss of consciousness and a rapid death.
Foxes habitually re-use dens year after year. A vixen is likely to begin excavating prospective dens in April to May as cubs are born during August to September. The vixen may have two or three other dens that can be used if the main breeding (natal) den is disturbed.
Fumigation should be used 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 3 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 revisit 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 to harbour. Above-ground harbour aids fox survival by protecting them from the elements and other 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 wood piles 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 to 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 fox's diet, 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 (Anatolian shepherds, Maremma sheepdogs) and alpacas to protect their flocks from fox predation. Guardian animals will either directly confront a predator using intimidation or disrupt the predators hunting behaviour by becoming noisy and active.
Guardian dogs should not be confused with herding dogs. A guardian dog’s sole purpose is to protect ‘their’ livestock from predators while working unsupervised and independently of humans.
The presence of domestic dogs may also discourage foxes from visiting suburban backyards.
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 on to protect livestock as a standalone 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 Humane vertebrate pest control.
Figure 1 courtesy of Ben Galbraith