18. The British Introduce Foxes to Australia for Sport Hunting
As early as the 1820s, it was becoming clear to all and sundry in Australia – if settlers complaints and newspaper editorials were anything to go by – that releasing rabbits into the Outback had been a huge mistake. Yet, the evidence hopping all over the place, that releasing a non-native species into a new environment might produce unintended negative consequences, was not enough. As early as 1833, European Red Foxes were released into the Australian wild so they could breed. Why? To allow upper class settlers to engage in the traditional English “sport” of fox hunting.
Within two decades of their introduction, fox populations had exploded, and they were declared pests. Throughout much of Australia – with the notable exception of Tasmania, where they were out-competed by the native Tasmanian Devil – foxes became apex predators. They hunted numerous native species into extinction, and drove many more to the brink. Not even tree-dwelling animals are safe: researchers documented in 2016 that some Red Foxes in Australia had learned how to climb trees in search of baby koalas and other unsuspecting creatures.