for National Geographic News
The recent discovery of a fox carcass in Australia's state of Tasmania has prompted government officials to warn of a "national environmental emergency."
Scientists and officials fear the common red fox was born in Tasmania, indicating that the species has established a foothold on the island, located off the southern coast of mainland Australia (map of Australia).
Once established, foxes could wipe out more than 70 species native to the island, which is renowned for its large tracts of pristine wilderness.
The threatened animals include birds such as the ground parrot and eastern quoll and marsupials such as the Eastern barred bandicoot and Tasmanian devil.
"Tasmania is a virtual Noah's Ark of rare and endangered species, many of which are extinct or nearing extinction on mainland Australia," said Bob Brown, leader of the Australian Greens political party. He lives on a small rural property on the island's north side.
"There should ... be no stone left unturned finding and imprisoning the criminals who are responsible for foxes being brought into Tasmania."
(Related: "Eco-Terrorism Blamed for Tasmania Red Fox Release" [January 30, 2003].)
Tasmania's Department of Primary Industries and Water estimates that 78 native vertebrate species could be at risk if the fox became established on the island.
Even better-established animalssuch as ducks, blue tongue lizards, mountain dragons, skinks, frogs, little penguins, and platypusesmay be threatened.
Farmers are also concerned.
On mainland Australia, foxes kill between 10 and 30 percent of lambs, leading the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association to estimate local lamb and wool industries could lose millions of dollars (Australian) a year.
And tourism representatives have said that visitor numbers could drop off if foxes cause a decline in the state's reputation as a unique wildlife environment.
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