Scientists prove foxes diet on sheep and possums

June 26, 2017

Associate Professor Trish Fleming

Associate Professor Trish Fleming studied the jaw strength of foxes

Hundreds of fox carcasses have been analysed to find out more about what the predator eats.

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

The foxes were collected from 13 different locations from Gingin to Corrigin to Mount 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,” said Professor Fleming.

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

The introduced red fox species poses a serious conservation and pest problem in Australia. Foxes can cause economic losses by also preying on free-range poultry, and occasionally on young lambs and kid goats.

There is strong evidence to suggest that foxes have caused the decline of many small to medium-sized species of Australian native mammals.

Professor 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,” she 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, organised by the Sporting Shooter’s Association of WA.

Natural resource management group 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 2,500 foxes, 150 feral cats and nearly 590 rabbits from the environment.

To read more about the research, click through to Professor Fleming's Western Web blog site here.

See the latest news from Murdoch University here.


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