Sarah brakes hard and my attention is drawn immediately back to the dirt road wending ahead of us. Her breathing is short and rapid. “Goodness, was that a dingo?” she rasps, “It came out of nowhere!”
“I’m pretty sure it was a fox,” I reply.
In fact I am a hundred per cent sure.
I would know.
I know all of the foxes, rabbits, wild goats and pigs in these parts. Know their movements, feeding and breeding grounds, holes, tracks and boundaries.
Foxes have a reputation for being cunning creatures, but they aren’t all so. Not on the whole. On the whole they are just creatures of instinct. Protecting their young, alert to unfamiliar smells and noises, looking for the next feed.
Sarah chats pleasantly as we drive along. And I resume my research, noting each dog bait sign and its precise location along the fence line.
When I explain it to Sarah I used the name on the signage – ‘ten-eighty bait’ - but I can tell by her polite, vacant look that she is unacquainted with the scourge. Obviously not a local.
Its nasty stuff - 1080 bait. Used to bait foxes almost ubiquitously in Australia, it’s a horrible way to die. Painful and drawn out, thrashing, shrieking, frothing, choking. And not only foxes take it but all manner of other non-target animals and birds. The demon poison we call it.
“I wouldn’t usually pick up hitchhikers,” Sarah muses. “Except for your uniform…” she trails off. “Where did you say you’d walked from?”
“I really appreciate the ride,” I said. “The ute died just up near Table Top but I figured I wasn’t that far from base. DPI is surveying compliance along here. The farmers are required to bait, and where they bait they need to sign, and they need their permits under the Act. On this trip I’m just recording the locations.”
“Do you need my GPS?” she asks helpfully, glancing sideways, scanning for my tools of trade.
“Thanks, but no, I’ve got an app that records it automatically.” I lie again, but it is only a small one.
Ten more minutes and I thank Sarah, who still looks uncertain about dropping me so far from anywhere.
“I know my way, honest,” I said. “It’s just to the north through the scrub, it’ll take you too far out of your way by road.”
She finally acquiesces, and as her tail lights disappear over the hill I let myself slowly transform to my natural state. Fur seeps through my skin, whiskers bristle and grow, my red pelt thickens and strong canid muscles weave themselves anew. I feel a surge as my shape changes and I drop to fours.
I don’t need a GPS. I record the baits’ locations by scent, by landmark and songline. And the information shared from this recce will save a thousand lives at least.
Foxes aren’t cunning on the whole, but I am. I am king of the foxes.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!