Fox focus in battle to save turtles

April 06, 2018

A Benalla homeowner has been told they must pay out of their own pocket to have a fox trapped on their property euthanised.

A Benalla homeowner has been told they must pay out of their own pocket to have a fox trapped on their property euthanised.

In a bid to protect the nests of native turtles on their land Mr and Mrs Versteegan had set a fox trap.

This was in response to finding an array of nests destroyed, dug up by foxes wandering in from a neighboring reserve.

Last week they captured one of the culprits.

Mrs Versteegan said this was when their problems started.

‘‘I called the council and they told me it was not their responsibility,’’ Mrs Versteegan said.

‘‘I was also told that I was not allowed to release it, and I didn’t want to release it anyway as the idea of trapping it was to protect the turtles.’’

After trying several different options the Versteegan’s contacted The Ensign, wanting to let the public know that it was individual landowners who were responsible for the cost of destroying pests.

‘‘We were told that we had to arrange for a local vet to attend and put it down,’’ Mr Versteegan said.

To be fair Benalla Rural City Council said it did offer help to the Versteegans and explained it could not euthanise the animal itself as it had no authority under the Domestic Animals Act 1994.

The council did arrange for an independent party to visit the property and euthanise the animal for them, unfortunately they were unable to do so.

However, regardless of small efforts like that of the Versteegans, larger state-based programs are having a positive effect in helping to protect native animals.

One of these initiatives, a North Central Catchment Management Authority (CMA) program aimed at protecting turtles in the north of the state, has produced some astounding results.

Only one per cent of juvenile turtles survive in the region, due mostly to predation by foxes.

Foxes raid nests, eat turtle eggs or attack the babies as they make the journey to the water.

From October to December, North Central CMA worked with the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program, the Victorian Government’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Turtles Australia and Western Sydney University on an intensive fox-baiting program.

‘‘We targeted the breeding season of Murray River and eastern long-neck turtles, with the aim of getting fox numbers down and protecting turtle nests,’’ North Central CMA project manager Amy Russell said.

‘‘We laid poisonous baits every 200 metres and refreshed them over the 10 weeks in key turtle nesting areas in the Gunbower State Forest, in what was the most intensive baiting program the region has ever seen.

‘‘We also supported research into non-lethal methods to manage the impacts of foxes.

‘‘In the end, foxes took more than 755 baits — 450 of them in the first five days — which is a huge number.’’

WSU researchers and Turtles Australia set up a series of comparison sites to measure the program’s effectiveness.

‘‘What they found was remarkable,’’ Ms Russell said.

‘‘There was a reduction in the number of raided nests by more than 70 per cent, compared to normal baited areas.

‘‘That proves that intensive baiting is a lot more effective.

‘‘Turtles Australia conducted a survey after rain, when foxes and turtles are more active, in both baited and non-baited areas.

‘‘They found 100 raided nests in the non-baited area, and only one raided nest in the baited area. That is a really exciting result.

‘‘Turtles Australia is currently surveying and will go back again in April to continue monitoring and the ongoing assessment of the baiting program.

‘‘If the community would like to get involved they can contact Turtles Australia.’’

Ms Russell thanked the broader community for their help during the baiting program.

‘‘Visitors to the forest kept their pet dogs on their leads and we didn’t have any reports of dogs taking baits,’’ she said.

‘‘This program was a first for us, but with the level of community support, and the level of effectiveness, we should only need to roll it out every three years, which means we will have generations of turtles benefiting across the whole region.’’

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