A frustrating four-and-a-half-year battle of hide and seek with one elusive fox has finally come to an end within a fenced area safe haven in north west NSW’s Pilliga State Conservation Area. The final predator, nicknamed ‘Rambo’, was outfoxed by a couple of floods and the project area has now officially been declared feral predator-free.
Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) and NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) confirmed the pesky fox’s disappearance. With the final predator finally out of the way, AWC can move forward with an important wildlife reintroduction program which will eventually see six locally-extinct species return to the Pilliga. The team can also focus their efforts on management of pests and weeds outside the fenced area.
Camera trap footage last caught the Pilliga’s most wanted walking through a monitoring site on 9 October 2022. Since then, despite intensive monitoring and tracking, not a single piece of evidence of his existence has been found, this includes searching through thousands of images captured across 97 cameras throughout the fenced area.
AWC’s operations team dedicated many sleepless nights in the near five-year hunt for Rambo. The team dedicated 10,400 trap nights, 73 shoot nights, 3500 baits and more than 55 days of scent-tracking dogs. Despite this extensive and intensive effort, it is suspected that Rambo met his fate during one of two flooding events that hit the Pilliga in October last year.
After adhering to the eradication monitoring periods, which requires a fenced area to be clear of feral predators for a minimum of three months, AWC and NPWS marked the fox as ‘no longer’.
“Adios Rambo!” said Wayne Sparrow, AWC Operations Manager in the Pilliga who championed the mammoth chase for the sly predator. “The lack of evidence is evidence in itself – we are so confident the fox is gone that we’ve even had an ‘Eradication Celebration’.”
“We’re all experiencing this unusual feeling of excitement, joy and disappointment because the team put much time and effort into this sizeable chase, only to have the fox leave on his own accord. At the end of the day, we needed the fox gone, one way or another. We have the result we need, and we can move forward with reintroducing new species and the whole project will progress.
“I’m incredibly proud of everyone who joined me on those many sleepless nights and stressful days. My work here is done – it’s over to the science team,” he joked.
AWC with NPWS constructed the Pilliga fence in July 2018 for the reintroduction of six locally extinct species. Due to Rambo’s presence, only three of the species were reintroduced within a smaller 680-hectare breeding area located within the larger fence. These were the Greater Bilby (2018), Bridled Nailtail Wallaby (2019) and Brush-tailed Bettong (2022).
During a 2022 survey of the Bilby and Bridled Nailtail Wallaby, AWC ecologists found that both populations have grown within the safety of the breeding area and are almost at maximum capacity. In Rambo’s absence, AWC can confidently open the breeding area and move forward with further reintroductions.
“The timing is perfect,” said Dr Vicki Stokes, AWC Senior Wildlife Ecologist. “Bilbies and the Bridled Nailtail Wallabies are ready to move into the larger area. Good conditions in the forest over the last few years have meant that both populations are doing exceptionally well and it’s good to get them out into the wider area so they can flourish.”
“We are also very excited to be able to move forward with reintroductions and we will be doing so very soon. We hope to release the vulnerable Plains Mouse before June and the Western Barred Bandicoot in September.”
Dr Stokes added that the Plains Mouse, in particular, is small enough to move between fence lines – reiterating the timeliness of Rambo’s departure.
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