The European red fox isn’t native to Australia, but it certainly does live there now, preying on native species. In an effort to help restore the ecological balance, scientists are experimenting with putting foxes off of some of those creatures, by making them barf.
Along with the ethical objections that many people have to simply culling fox populations, such efforts can sometimes have the opposite of the desired effect.
In the past, it’s been shown that in response to an initial drop in their numbers, coyotes will compensate by starting to breed at a younger age and more often. As a result, there end up actually being more coyotes in a given area than there were before the culling started.
Not wanting something similar to happen with the red foxes, scientists from the Australian National University and the University of South Australia have been pursuing another, non-lethal tactic – they’re trying to make foxes associate eating certain animals with feeling sick.
As part of the study, the researchers laid out caches of fried deboned chicken in a total of 30 locations within Australia’s Wandiyali-Environa Wildlife Sanctuary. They did so over three sequential time periods.
For the first period (10 days), the chicken had an empty gelatin capsule stuck inside of the meat. For the second period (12 days), the capsule contained a veterinary drug known as levamisole, which would temporarily make the foxes feel nauseous and cause them to vomit. For the third period (12 days), the chicken once again contained an empty capsule.
It was found that throughout the third period, the foxes took an average of 30% less chicken than they did during the first period. It is believed that this reduction was due to what took place during the second period, when the foxes came to associate the eating of chicken with throwing up.
Although more research still needs to be conducted, it is hoped that the team’s findings could ultimately help preserve certain at-risk native species, without having to resort to trapping, shooting or poisoning foxes.
A paper on the study, which was led by Australian National University PhD student Tim Andrewartha, has been published in the journal Conservation Science and Practice.
Source: University of South Australia