Science vs tall tales in the feral battle

You don't control cats just by funding the idea of doing so

IT WAS a famous line, from an iconic television series – Seinfeld.

"Jerry, just remember. It's not a lie ... if you believe it."

Wise advice to Jerry Seinfeld – and perhaps a lesson to be heeded when it comes to seeking the elusive Tasmanian fox.

While it might sound funny, it is sage advice which should be applied to any decision, by any government, which seeks to control invasive pests or animals.

It doesn't matter whether it is goats, donkeys, camels, wild dogs, foxes or other vertebrate species - eminent environmental scientists have argued decisions must be based on facts, not emotion.

One thing is certain. When it comes to Tasmanian foxes, there has never been a middle ground.

You are either in the camp which says there were, and are, foxes; or you believe they have never been on the 'Island State' and are not there now.

The first camp claims to have produced evidence that foxes are found in Tasmania. According to them, the evidence is crying out for an extremely vigilant response and justifies the amount of money spent in the past 13 years.

In the other camp, eminent environmental scientists say that evidence lacks quality, is based on nonsense logic and is of unproven Tasmanian provenance.

Those who argue for a fox control and monitoring program say the risk is too great to ignore. There is no doubt the introduction of the fox to Tasmania would have a devastating effect on stock, particularly sheep numbers, and wildlife.

As one former government minister was overheard to say: "I don't want to go down in history as the biggest environmental terrorist in the history of Tasmania".

Scientists, too, agree that foxes should never be allowed to become established, but their argument is based on the soundness of the science.

Tasmanian Attorney-General Vanessa Goodwin told the State parliament recently her government shares some of the fox concerns of the previous administration, but "there are, and may always be, differing views about the science underpinning it".

Notwithstanding those differing views, any major expenditure of public money must be based on rigorous justification, data and explanations.

In the meantime, attention now needs to turn to the control of feral cats.

Too little attention and time have been spent in controlling this pest species – certainly no-one seems to have any idea as to how many of them are actually out there.

As eminent vertebrate specialist Dr Clive Marks said, you don't control cats just by funding the idea of doing so.

Techniques to monitor the threat, strategies to control the animals and policies to make it happen are now urgently needed.

Whatever the belief about the existence of foxes in Tasmania, lessons can be learnt and should now be applied to extensive feral cat control.

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READER COMMENTS

FarmerBrown
25/09/2014 6:38:16 AM

A bounty on foxes proven to be killed in Tasmania would have been more financially viable than the Fox taskforce. As a farmer who has lost too many domestic cats to the hysteria whipped up about feral cats I just hope that some sense can be seen. Cats within a five hundred metre range of a farm house are not ferals. Ferals do not sit up and look at you waiting to be shot. Ferals are large ugly creatures found in bush and run like hell when they see a human. So please spare a thought for the poor mouse catchers and their owners before you shoot any more farm cats.
A matter of opinionA selection of editorials from around the Fairfax Agricultural Media group covering the issues of the week.

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