Foxbusters declares war on WA foxes

Graham Lawrence has declared war on the fox population of Western Australia. As well as making significant culling inroads into their numbers, he has compiled a database from his experiences, which he is happy to share with others who want to target one of Australia’s most persistent pest species.

Graham launched his crusade against foxes about five years ago, adopting the moniker ‘Foxbusters’. He and his band of volunteer helpers drive out in a modified 1985 Range Rover that was purchased in April 2009 and has been doing the rounds ever since.

In addition to this sturdy vehicle, the foxhunters have a ‘secret weapon’ – the taped sound of a distressed animal that seems to attract foxes in their droves after dark. Once the foxes close in to investigate the noise, Graham and his shooter helpers do the rest. Even at night when spotlighting, once fox eyes are seen, the team switches off the engine and all lights except one spotlight, which is shone low, keeping the fox eyes illuminated in the upper edge of the beam. Foxes have been known to gallop towards the sound.

All information garnered about better understanding fox behaviour, including their damage to habitat and the den sites where the pairing dog-fox and vixen mate and raise their cubs, is all recorded on the Foxbusters website, which was started in June 2012, and is a work in progress. There is also information about fox diseases – such as mange, distemper and potential carriers of rabies – as well as addressing and improving control methods, including hunting, shooting, trapping, baiting and biological control.

Since its inception, the website has had 12,000 viewings from more than 50 countries. There have also been 70 requests for the Foxbusters ‘secret weapon’ from Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and the ACT.

Graham and his wife own a farming property in WA, which is leased out. That affords him plenty of time to engage in his fox-hunting schedule, as well as enjoy other hunting excursions interstate. He has been a SSAA member since February 1996. “I used to have handguns but gave them away to concentrate on hunting rifles,” he said.

When asked about his fox hunting exploits, Graham said, “We cover about 30 other properties throughout the Great Southern District of WA. Neighbouring shires would stretch our area to 100,000 acres. There are lots of sheep and lambs to protect.

“We go out once or twice a week early in the year. It’s still a work in progress, but I guess we have been going for about five years. It started when we bought the buggy ‘Rover’ and I thought why not let’s go and get some foxes. A few really keen mates and the other volunteers keep me on my toes.

“We have a code of practice, which we follow to the letter, and we don’t chase the foxes unless we have to.”

The facts and figures of the Foxbusters campaign, listed under the blog section of his website, run up to the 2014 database. Graham will soon be completing the 2015 update. “When we started the website, we checked out the Foxbusters domain name to see it if was okay,” said Graham. “We successfully nailed it, so I keep adding bits of things to the website.”

Graham has a healthy respect for the species that the Foxbusters have in their sights, even if the aim is to destroy as many as possible. “Nearly every time we go out we are learning something about foxes. It really is a constant learning curve,” he said. “They are crafty adversaries. Foxes are a little bit like people. They are intelligent but even intelligent people can do stupid things.

“It’s such great satisfaction when we outfox the fox, so to speak. The ‘secret weapon’ is just that…It’s very rare that we don’t take any foxes at all. On average I would say we bag six or seven foxes every hunt. The recording is such a boon. It’s so good that I reckon the nearest fox would have to have been shot from about 4m.”

Sometimes, Graham ponders how and why foxes were introduced to Australia in the first place, and their ability to adapt successfully over the years to their new surrounds. “Foxes could have been introduced as part of the traditional hounds and horse situation, or maybe they were brought in to control rabbits,” he said. “They have adapted well, but they are really good at that. After all, it’s a fact that in the UK, the fox population in London is greater than in some parts of the countryside.”

Tapping into the mindset of the average fox also helps to keep the Foxbusters one step ahead in the continuing struggle. “We came across the odd case of one fox who was so wary that he took five days before finally getting round to eating a kangaroo carcass,” said Graham. “If that had been a dog, it would have just gorged itself. They are strange animals, who think more like cats than dogs.

“A friend in Perth makes a living out of fox-hunting. He tried to domesticate some just as an experiment, but they are not like dogs and do not easily domesticate.” Special licences and conditions are required for keeping feral animals.

Domestication of foxes would be the last thing on Graham’s mind as he and the Foxbusters go about their duties. The data shows that in 2013 the Foxbusters bagged 140 foxes, while in 2014 the total reached 222. All the findings are duly logged.

So, if you’re on the trail of foxes, who ya gunna call? Try Foxbusters for starters!

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