How a lone fox nicknamed ‘Rambo’ outsmarted his human hunters for four years while slaughtering endangered wildlife…and it took an act of nature to end his reign
- Rambo wreaked havoc in a New South Wales wilderness area for years
For four long years, a lone fox named Rambo led countless pursuers on a merry chase, outsmarting them at every turn.
Those looking for the ultimate predator living inside a fenced-in refuge for endangered species literally tried everything.
Shooting expeditions. Poison baits dropped from the air. Traps carefully hidden in Rambo’s favorite places.
Even 55 days scouring the landscape with scent-tracking dogs didn’t work.
So one can understand why news of the fox’s death in a recent flood, exaggerated or not, has left its stalkers feeling elated but also a little ripped off.
The last photo of Rambo the red fox in the Pilliga State Conservation Area in NSW
James Stevens had two attempts to catch Rambo, two years apart.
“He lives in your head,” said the veteran tracker who spent more than 100 days following Rambo’s trail, covering hundreds of miles on foot.
While he is delighted that the presence of the wily predator is no longer halting efforts to rebuild the Pilliga State Conservation Area in New South Wales, he is disheartened that it did not win the prize.
“Nobody especially likes getting hit by something with a brain half your size,” Mr. Stevens laughed.
There’s no doubt that Rambo was an intelligent beast, but he believes that his life inside the shelter was like Eutopia.
With plenty to eat and no competition, the fox had only one job, avoiding humans, and he became very good at it.
“When they changed a camera or brought out a new one, they would get a picture of him, but then he would know where that camera was, so he would avoid it from then on. And it was exactly the same with cheating,” Stevens said.
“He would come to a trap, within a few feet of it and then he would disappear and just not come back to that area for four, five, six weeks. Until he thought he was safe.
Wayne Sparrow of 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 great flood occurred, submerging the traps that Mr. Stevens had carefully placed along Rambo’s favorite creek. Another deluge came the following month.
Pilliga State Forest area has 5,800 hectares being ‘rebuilt’ with rare species (above)
With no camera trap sightings or other signs of Rambo’s enduring presence, a preliminary statement was made on December 2 that he was gone.
From then until now, intensive monitoring has found no trace of him, not even in any of the 97 cameras that work day and night.
Wildlife officers have also repeatedly raked both sides of the sandy path inside the refuge before returning to check for telltale paw prints.
All of that means the authorities are pretty sure Rambo is no more.
That’s great news for the endangered bilbies and nail-tailed wallabies that have been happily breeding for a few years now in a securely fenced breeding area within the larger fenced refuge.
“Now that Rambo is gone, we’ve been able to open the fence to the breeding area and they now have access to the entire 5,800-hectare site,” Sparrow said.
Brush-tailed bettongs have also been reintroduced and work on the next species – the plains mouse and Shark Bay bandicoot – can begin later this year.
If anyone needs proof of what excluding wild predators can do for native wildlife, one statistic stands out.
“We don’t have foxes now, we haven’t had cats for over three years, we haven’t had goats for over two years and we don’t have pigs,” Sparrow added.
“And when you look at the yellow-legged antechinus, the most abundant small mammal, there are now 10 times more inside the fence than outside it.”