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Baiting begins in Hattah fox project

THE rollout of poisoned baits has begun in an integrated research and feral animal control project to reduce the impact of foxes on turtle populations in the Mallee’s RAMSAR-listed wetlands, the Hattah Lakes.

The lakes’ healthy population of Eastern Long Neck Turtles is under long-term threat from predators, but a three-year project is aiming to reduce fox numbers while adding to researchers’ knowledge about the best methods to control the pests.

The project is supported by the Mallee CMA, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme. Important project support has also been provided by the Arthur Rylah Institute and Parks Victoria.

Chairperson of the Mallee CMA Sharyon Peart said the turtles at the internationally-renowned lakes were currently in their breeding season.

“Female Eastern Long Neck Turtles come out of the lakes during summer and lay their eggs in shallow nests in the sand on the lakes’ shores,” Ms Peart said.

“For the foxes, the eggs are hidden delicacies and relatively easy pickings and in the long-term that will certainly threaten this population,” she said.

“Our project used hidden cameras to monitor some artificial nests containing quail eggs and over six weeks we found that fox predation of turtle nests could potentially be as high as 93 percent.”

Mallee CMA Water Project Officer Malcolm Thompson has been coordinating the fox project, which, until this week was in a phase of ‘free feeding’ the foxes.

“That means placing small meat-based baits to get the foxes used to taking the baits, and now we’re moving into laying 1080 poisoned baits at 180 sites around the lakes,” Mr Thompson said.

“That’s the satisfying part because you know you’re having a positive impact,” he said.

“Virtually every poisoned bait that’s taken amounts to a dead fox and one less fox raiding the nests of turtles and other species here at the lakes.”

Mr Thompson said signage had been put up around the baited areas to warn visitors to the park about the baiting program.

“The baits are prepared by a specialist company in Melbourne.  We lay them directly into a soil mound – a false nest – so there’s very little handling of the baits on-site,” Mr Thompson said.

“The bait sites are located some distance away from the lakes, but if someone bushwalking does notice a small mound of soil that’s been recently dug they should not interfere with it,” he said.

“In the Mallee, foxes and cats are really the only two carnivorous animals that will dig, so we use the soil mounds because we know it’ll only be foxes or cats that access the baits.”

 

Monitoring after the project is completed will compare fox numbers before and after the poisoning phase to allow the impact of the program to be quantified.

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