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Last Updated: Monday, 24 September 2007, 01:39 GMT 02:39 UK
Fox invasion fear grips Tasmania
By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

Red fox. File pic
Foxes are blamed for wiping out native species on the mainland
Tasmania is intensifying its controversial war against an invisible yet potentially destructive foe - the European red fox.

Officials in the southern Australian state believe numbers are increasing and plan to spend up to A$50m ($43m) on an eradication campaign.

Foxes could decimate ground-nesting birds and some native rodents.

But sceptics insist the government has been hoodwinked by hoaxers bringing fox carcasses from the mainland.

Taskforce

No-one knows how many foxes there are, if any, in Tasmania.

The official estimate is between 50 and 200.

The state government is convinced that these voracious creatures have made it to the "Apple Isle" as stowaways on cargo boats from the mainland or brought in by smugglers.

To counter the threat, a special taskforce has been set up.

It claims to have hard evidence of fox activity, including the remains of three animals found on roads as well as droppings and footprints.

There have been hundreds of alleged sightings but there is no concrete proof, however, that pregnant vixens or cubs are present.

Sceptics believe that the government's evidence is flimsy and blame pranksters for creating this panic.

Tasmanians do have good reason to cast a worried look north towards the mainland.

According to experts, there are 30 million foxes across the Australian continent.

They were introduced by European settlers and are thought to have played a major part in the extinction of at least 23 native species.


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