How a single fox dubbed ‘Rambo’ outwitted his human hunters for four years as he slaughtered endangered wildlife… and it took an act of nature to bring him down his reign
- Rambo caused havoc in a NSW wilderness area for years
For four long years a lone fox named Rambo led countless pursuers on a merry chase, outwitting them at every step.
Those hunting for the last predator living inside a fenced refuge for endangered species literally tried everything.
Shooting expeditions. Poisonous baits dropped from the air. Traps carefully hidden at Rambo’s favourite spots.
Even 55 days scouring the landscape with scent-tracking dogs didn’t work.
So one can understand why news of the fox’s demise in a recent flood, exaggerated or otherwise, has left his stalkers feeling elated but also slightly ripped off.
The last photo of Rambo the red fox in Pilliga State Conservation Area in NSW
James Stevens had two goes at catching Rambo – two years apart.
‘He lives in your head,’ said the veteran tracker who spent more that 100 days on Rambo’s trail, covering hundreds of kilometres on foot.
While he’s thrilled the cunning predator’s presence will no longer hold up efforts to rewild NSW’s Pilliga State Conservation Area, he’s bummed he didn’t get the prize.
‘Nobody likes to be beaten especially by something with a brain half your size,’ Mr Stevens laughed.
There’s no doubt Rambo was an intelligent beast but he reckons his life inside the refuge was like Eutopia.
With plenty to eat and no competition, the fox had just one job – to avoid humans – and he got very good at it.
‘When they shifted a camera or put a new camera out, they’d sort of get one photo of him but then he knew where that camera was so he’d avoid it from then on. And it was exactly the same with traps,’ Mr Stevens said.
‘He’d come up onto a trap, within a few metres of it and then he’d disappear and he just wouldn’t come back to that area for four, five six weeks. Until he thought it was safe.’
Wayne Sparrow, from the Australian Wildlife Conservancy, helps manage the Pilliga refuge project and said Rambo was last caught on camera on October 9.
Ten days later a major flood swept through, submerging traps Mr Stevens had carefully laid along Rambo’s favourite creek line. Another deluge arrived the following month.
The Pilliga State Forrest area is 5,800 hectares that’s being ‘rewilded’ with rare species (above)
With no camera trap sightings or other signs of Rambo’s enduring presence, a preliminary declaration was made on December 2 that he was gone.
Between then and now intensive monitoring has found no further sign of him, including on any of the 97 cameras that operate day and night.
Wildlife officers have also repeatedly raked both sides of the sandy road within the refuge before returning to check for any tell-tale paw prints.
All that means authorities are quite sure Rambo is no more.
It’s great news for endangered bilbies and bridled nail-tail wallabies that have been happily breeding for some years now in a securely fenced breeding area, within the broader fenced refuge.
‘Now Rambo is gone, we’ve been able to open up the breeding area fence and they now have access to the full 5,800 hectare site,’ Mr Sparrow said.
Brush-tailed bettongs have also been reintroduced and work can start on the next species: the plains mouse and Shark Bay bandicoot later this year.
If anyone needs proof of what excluding feral predators can do for native wildlife one statistic stands out.
‘We’ve got no foxes now, we haven’t had any cats for three-plus years, we haven’t had any goats for two-plus years and we don’t have any pigs,’ Mr Sparrow added.
‘And when you look at the yellow-footed antechinus – the most abundant small mammal – there are now 10 times more inside the fence, than outside it.’