The European red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is listed nationally as a key threatening process, posing a significant threat to Australia’s native animals. Since 2008, Gnaraloo has undertaken a specialized fox control program to protect the turtle rookeries on its coast due to the historical high level of fox predation of turtle eggs and hatchlings. The Gnaraloo Fox Control Program is conducted with support from a licensed third party pest controller, Animal Pest Management Services, and the Department of Environment and Conservation, Western Australia.
The Gnaraloo Fox Control Program is a separate but complementary program to the Gnaraloo Turtle Conservation Program. The sole objective of the fox control program is to protect turtle rookeries at Gnaraloo and reduce critical predation threats to egg clutches and hatchlings during the annual breeding season. It is not linked or directed at enhancing economic or pastoral production. The fox control program also has other positive indirect biodiversity conservation outcomes as it protects native terrestrial fauna on Gnaraloo from predation and extinction by foxes, including small to medium sized mammals, marsupials, ground nesting birds and reptiles.
The Gnaraloo Fox Control Program uses specialized purpose made 1080 (sodium fluoroacetate) baits at turtle beaches, surrounding hinterlands and adjacent buffer zones from the southern to northern coast of Gnaraloo. During 2010/11, baiting was also extended inland from the coast, to Gnaraloo’s most eastern terrestrial border. Fox baiting is undertaken during November – April (the turtle breeding season) as well as prior to May (the peak fox breeding season).
The turtle track monitoring season 2010/11 under the Gnaraloo Turtle Conservation Program consisted of 87 sample days (about 3 months) during 13 November 2010 – 7 February 2011. Along with their other work, researchers under the Gnaraloo Turtle Conservation Program also monitor disturbance and/or predation of turtle eggs or hatchlings in the study area by foxes, cats and wild dogs, by recording tracks and any evidence of disturbances and/or predation.
Unlike previous years, no fox tracks were recorded within the Gnaraloo Bay Rookery during the monitoring period 2010/11! Accordingly, there was no disturbance or predation by foxes of turtle eggs or hatchlings in the study area during this time.
This result attests to the success of the Gnaraloo Fox Control Program in operation since 2008.
However, to maintain fox numbers to a minimum and prevent a resurgence of foxes resulting in the high turtle egg and hatchling predation previously evidenced at Gnaraloo, it is strongly recommended that the structured specialized fox baiting continue to be undertaken in future as soon as any fox tracks are observed in the Gnaraloo Bay Rookery by researchers under the Gnaraloo Turtle Conservation Program and to repeat the baiting events at the beginning of each month during the turtle breeding season (November – April) and prior to the peak fox breeding season (May). This will not only protect turtle eggs whilst incubating, but also reduce predation on emerging hatchlings later during the season.
The Gnaraloo turtle program and fox control program are essential accompaniments to each other and continuation of both is necessary for effective on-ground protection of the Gnaraloo rookeries.