Hunt for red predators

Corrina RidgwayThe West Australian
Dave Thiel.
Camera IconDave Thiel. Credit: Corrina Ridgway/Countryman

This year's combined community offence against one of Australia's most destructive feral animals has been a success.

To date, the 2014 Red Card Red Fox hunt tally stands at 2453 foxes, 192 cats and 2407 rabbits from 29 locations from Esperance to Chapman Valley.

Final figures are expected later this month.

For every fox or cat killed, a $5 contribution to the Royal Flying Doctor Service is made by sponsor Stockbrands, with this year's donation currently at $13,275.

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The event has currently raised more than $101,000 for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Originally established by landcare groups in Wagin and Dumbleyoung to combat sheep and native animal predation, the event, run over two weekends in February and March, is supported by Federal and State governments.

Wheatbelt Natural Resource Management group Co-ordinator Jacquie Lucas said the event had strong involvement this year.

"Statewide we had 535 people involved for the February weekend shoot alone," she said.

"The hunt is staged in autumn as it's when young foxes are out and about.

"It's also a quieter period for farmers, so we get better community involvement."

Further benefits of the hunt include ongoing research by Murdoch University.

Research has shown fox gut content comprises 56 per cent sheep material, 20 per cent mice, 10 per cent native animals and a remainder of plant and insect matter.

This year, the university is researching bait take-up to determine maximum location and presentation effectiveness for 1080 bait laying.

Although no trends have been seen in feral animal population numbers or locales, Ms Lucas said there had been areas of highest cull.

"I can't say whether it is because of better community participation but Cadoux, Kalannie and Esperance generally have the highest cull numbers," she said.

This year was no exception, with Esperance topping the State tally in February.

Esperance RCRF co-ordinater Andrew Heinrich said this was in spite of the region being seven teams down from 2013.

The region tallied 645 foxes, 31 cats and 435 rabbits from 11 teams, beating their previous year's figures of 605 foxes, 27 cats and 629 rabbits, raising $3380 for the RFDS.

Esperance shoot stalwart Dave Thiel said the season had contributed to the numbers.

Involved since the shoot's inception, he said foxes had been particularly healthy.

"I was amazed at the weight of some of the foxes this year. On investigation of a few carcasses, their stomachs were just full of insects and frogs," he said.

"I have never seen them in such a healthy condition - even showing a layer of fat from skin to stomach.

"It has been an exceptionally good season for them."

A cull advocate, he said numbers were surprisingly high.

"I go out most nights and since the shoot I have probably shot another 60 to 70 foxes," he said.

"On the first night of the shoot we got nine foxes in one paddock - I didn't have to move the vehicle for five of those.

"It goes to show the fox population is extremely high - I'd say the highest it has ever been here."

Mr Thiel said the presence of tree farms in the region also assisted population increases.

He firmly believes the cull helps curb population levels and is beneficial for all.

"I generally shoot for six or more farmers at any time. I have seen a fox stand in front of a lamb, biting and licking it incessantly until it dies," he said.

"They are not culling weak animals, only what they can separate from the flock.

"If you see the damage they do you understand the importance of controlling them."

Mr Thiel said the shoot focused on a clean kill.

"I believe in the importance of shooting to kill in a single shot," he said.

"Everything should be done humanely - it allows the shoot to have a clean bill of health in other people's eyes."

The 68-year-old is keen to see more involvement.

"We need to get more people involved to desperately get numbers down," he said.

"This year we had a team of six relatively new younger shooters that topped the table with 132 foxes in four nights.

"We want to see more of that."

York farmer Terry Davies, who has welcomed a review of the State's gun-licensing laws, said the program was an example of how firearms could be used to support and benefit the agricultural industry.

"This program illustrates how firearms can be used in a positive way," Mr Davies said.

"The Government needs to make penalties harsher for people who commit crimes with firearms, but the laws need to be relaxed for farmers using them to protect our environment."

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