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Poison Island

By David Obendorf - posted Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Tasmania continues its use of 1080 poison baits to “eradicate” foxes. On the State Government’s own data, in the last five years, more than 140,000 of these poison baits have been laid across various lands where the authorities believe foxes might exist.

Three Tasmanians have each offered $1,000 fox rewards (Tasmanian Times: “$1,000 fox reward”). All remain unclaimed despite farmers, landowners and professional shooters all knowing about them. And yet the government “guessimate” claims there are up to 400 foxes living in Tasmania … somewhere.

Animals known to dig up and take these poison meat baits include Tasmanian devils, quolls and feral cats.


Just recently the Tasmanian devil has been upgraded from “vulnerable” to “endangered” as the infectious cancer causes this species to continue to decline. The next largest carnivorous marsupial - the spotted-tail quoll - is also listed as a threatened species in Tasmania and in every mainland Australian state and Territory where it is known to exist (Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT).

In my opinion Tasmania’s use of 1080 poison over the last five decades - to kill browsing and grazing native herbivores - has had a significant effect on the over-population followed by the facial tumour disease-crash in devil numbers and in the widespread establishment of feral cats across the island.

Ironically the state government has now ceased the use of 1080-laced carrot/apple baits on public lands to kill grazing wildlife but now uses tens of thousands of meat baits in public forests where they claim they are targeting those cryptic foxes.

Spotted-tail quolls in mainland forests are showing signs of decline. Poison 1080 meat baits have been more readily available to mainland landowners and public land managers for over a decade and some scientists have tried to get the national poisons registration authority to recognise the impact on the quoll.

Surveys of state forests, after 1080 baiting for fox control, have highlighted the dramatic decline in quoll numbers. Just recently a large tract of highly favoured spotted-tail quoll habitat in the Victorian Otway Ranges was surveyed for quoll presence. This large tract of wet temperate forest in South West Victoria was identified as supporting an important population of quoll; a population integral to the recovery plan for the species in Victoria.

Tasmanian Tiger cancer

Remote camera surveys using food attractants as lures were conducted at 50 sites in the mountainous forests during the winter of 2007; the optimal time to survey as it coincides with their breeding and greatest activity of adult quolls. Preliminary results are very disturbing. Not one spotted-tail quoll was recorded in the 50 sites surveyed between May and August 2007 and equally concerning feral cats were recorded at 40 of the 50 of sites.

For readers interested in the risks of 1080 to our native marsupial carnivores, please read earlier blogs by the author.

The tragic irony Tasmania now faces is that we might be trying to eradicate an unwanted predator - namely the red fox - for which we have no hard evidence that they have successfully established any breeding populations; we might also be contributing to a reduction in the numbers of a threatened species of marsupial carnivore - namely the spotted-tail quoll by using these 1080 fox baits and through the consequence of poison usage in Tasmania over the last 150 years, artificially set up the demographic and genetic instability in the devil population that’s now allowing a very significant wildlife terminator - namely the feral cat - to expand and proliferate.

After the politically-sanctioned extermination of the thylacine during the 19th and early 20th centuries, have we learnt nothing?

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First published in the Tasmanian Times on December 12, 2007.

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About the Author

David Obendorf lives in West Hobart. He is a veterinarian specialising in study of animal disease. He came to Tasmania in the early 1980s and has a special interest in diseases of wildlife. In 1994 he was appointed to the Scientific Advisory Committee of the World Animal Health Body - the Office of International Epizootics - in recognition of his wild disease expertise.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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