Scientists prove foxes diet on sheep and possums

Hundreds of fox carcasses collected from the Wheatbelt have been put under the microscope to find out exactly what the predator eats.

Scientists from Murdoch University analysed the jaw strength and gut contents of 540 foxes captured through a community-based feral animal control program.

The foxes were collected from 13 different locations from Gingin to Corrigin to Mt Barker through the Red Card for Rabbits and Foxes program in 2010.

Murdoch University’s Associate Professor Trish Fleming has just published the findings.

“We’ve found that juvenile foxes eat as much sheep as an adult fox, with sheep making up to two thirds of their stomach contents,” Trish Fleming said.

“We also found foxes feast on brush tail possums, reptiles, frogs, birds and invertebrates.”

Trish Fleming said by studying skull morphology, bite force and teeth, they found 57 per cent of the foxes culled were less than one year old.

“This is probably because they were young, naïve and on the move away from their home, so more likely to be shot,” Trish Fleming said.

“This information reinforces the need for coordinated pest animal control to boost the productivity of livestock farmers and protect native animals.

“The female foxes tended to feed on rodents and invertebrates.

“This may suggest they stay closer to sheds and houses.”

More than 800 people from Northampton through to Esperance participated in this year’s Autumn Red Card for Rabbits and Foxes shoot, coordinated by coordinated by natural resource management group Wheatbelt NRM and sponsored by the Sporters Shooters Association of Australia (WA) Inc.

Wheatbelt NRM receives funding through the Western Australian Government’s State NRM Program to coordinate the Red Card program

The group’s Jacquie Lucas said the Autumn shoot removed nearly 2500 foxes, 150 feral cats and nearly 590 rabbits from the environment.

“Rabbit numbers were down this year, probably because of the new strains of calici virus helping keep the population down,” Jacquie Lucas said.

The next coordinated shoot and hot-baiting period was scheduled for Spring 2017.