No conclusive fox evidence: two-year report

A two-year scientific report that brought together seven international scientists and academics has found ``serious deficiencies in the data and analysis'' used to justify the 13-year-long Tasmanian Fox Eradication Program.

The Independent Review of the Tasmanian Fox Eradication Program  will be publicly released after Sunday.

A website, Tasmanian Fox?, has been launched this morning. 

In June last year, then environment minister Brian Wightman still sought   more federal funding for the Fox Eradication Program after it had been rolled into the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment invasive species branch.

One of the lead scientists, Dr Clive Marks, said the group aimed to replicate and assess the FEP data using qualitative and laboratory analysis, not that of uncorroborated anecdotal sightings by the public.

He said determining fox positive scat DNA was critical to the FEP's claims.

Dr Marks said since that 2001 all cases of the physical evidence of foxes were provided by third parties, who were either anonymous or used unverified stories for the discovery.

He said at least five of the cases were ``indisputably'' hoaxes and 14 ``had poor evidentiary quality, were incorrectly reported, baseless or unverifiable''.

A number of the findings are under peer review and have been accepted for publication in a range of international scientific journals.

In one such journal,  Forensic Science International: Genetics , the work of scientists from the University of Porto (Portugal) found that ``false positives'' would be the result of one of the published DNA tests developed for use in Tasmania to identify fox scats.

This may see cattle, pig, rabbit and even Tasmanian devil DNA mistaken for that of a fox.

According to Dr Marks, the 61 fox positive scats reported by the FEP over the past 13 years closely resembled a statistical pattern expected from false positives.

Primary Industries and Water Minister Jeremy Rockliff said the Liberal government  was ``concerned about the Labor-Green government's level of investment of funds in fox-focused activities at the expense of other biosecurity threats''.

``Future action in relation to foxes will take its place as one of many potential threats subject to the objective risk assessment regime used in biosecurity,'' he said.

The ABC Radio National investigative program  Background Briefing   will broadcast more evidence on Sunday morning.


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