The European fox is well known as a lamb-killer, but the damage it does to native wildlife is less well-known.
Being a predator, it takes whatever is easiest to catch. While rabbits, mice and rats certainly feature commonly on its menu, the fox is also a serious predator of native wildlife. Victims include any native mammal and bird that it comes across, as well as snakes, lizards, frogs and tortoises. It hunts mainly at night.
Foxes occur in all types of habitat, including cities, farmland and native forests. There is probably nowhere that they do not occur in western Victoria. Their habitat requirements are very simple, being basically a suitable breeding den. They shelter in any suitable spot, with rushy areas, young pine plantations and blackberry and gorse thickets being frequently used. They have one litter of four or five cubs each spring.
Foxes have been shown to be responsible for the decline of many native mammals. In some places they have caused local extinctions of native species. Bandicoots, pademelons and quolls remain in Tasmania, where foxes do not occur. In western Victoria foxes have a serious impact on the breeding success of the brolga. Foxes also eat larger insects, as well as blackberries, which they spread through their droppings.
Various baits and traps are available for foxes. Shooting is also a well-known and commonly used control method.
Cats have long been known as bird-catchers, but they also prey on a wide variety of other creatures. Often kept because they catch mice and rats, they expand their hunting activities to include all sorts of small native mammals (especially possums, gliders and bats), as well as birds, reptiles, frogs and larger insects. Their busiest hunting time is at night.
While cats certainly kill numerous mice, rats and rabbits, their toll on native wildlife is often conveniently forgotten. They have caused local extinctions of some native species.
Like foxes, cats can be found practically anywhere in western Victoria, although their numbers are fewer than foxes away from cities and towns. They live in farmland, forests and grassland. They can have two litters of three or four kittens each year.
Various baits and traps are available for cats, which are more readily caught than foxes. Shooters are often pleased to dispatch them when hunting foxes or rabbits.
With various campaigns and viruses plotted against them, rabbits continue to thrive in Australia. They are found in almost every habitat where grasses are dominant.
Their competition with livestock for grass has been recognised for a century or more, but their impact on Australian flora and fauna is seldom appreciated.
Like most grazing species, rabbits have their preferred plants. This has resulted in the loss of many species to many localities across the nation. Such plants may have been numerous before the rabbit arrived, but are now extinct or rare because rabbits have eaten them out.
We must admit that rabbits are the major prey item of the wedge-tailed eagle, as well as other predatory birds. Being the main prey item of foxes, they also help divert foxes’ attention from native species. Also, their burrows are sometimes used by native creatures.
Rabbits are usually controlled by baiting, by fumigating their burrows, by destroying their warrens or by shooting. There are also special cage traps designed for rabbits. Constant attention is required to keep a property rabbit-free.