One of the biggest wildlife conservation programs undertaken in Australia has reached a major milestone, celebrating 25 years of protecting our native wildlife. The Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions’ (DBCA) Western Shield program has been operating for 25 years and works to protect Western Australia’s native wildlife through broadscale management of introduced predators, including foxes and feral cats.
Feral cats and foxes have been implicated in the extinction or decline of many of WA’s native mammals, birds and reptiles. Research has shown that feral cats kill more than 1.5 billion native animals each year in Australia, and foxes are responsible for many more. One of the best ways to ensure the survival of these species is to control these introduced predators.
Western Shield has achieved significant conservation outcomes for many threatened mammal, bird and reptile species in WA, including the recovery of populations and increases in distribution.
More than 30 focal native species have directly benefited from the program, including the numbat, quokka, quenda, chuditch, woylie, western brush wallaby and black-flanked rock wallaby. Dryandra Woodland, near Narrogin, has benefited significantly through long-term introduced predator control, which has resulted in an increased number of numbats in this area.
Research has found a threefold increase in native animal numbers in forests where fox management occurs, including for threatened species like the chuditch and woylie. Fox density has also been reduced by up to 80 per cent in fox management areas in the State’s South-West.
The management of introduced predators takes place across around 3.8 million hectares of DBCA’s Parks and Wildlife Service-managed land and associated partner areas, from Karratha in the north, through forests of the South-West to east of Esperance.
The program is run with support from partners including Alcoa of Australia, Tronox, Western Areas Limited, South 32 Worsley Alumina, Newmont Boddington Gold, Commonwealth Department of Defence and Ventia.
Volunteers from all over the world are able to get involved in Western Shield through the online Zooniverse camera watch project. This citizen science program allows people to help to identify and classify animals from images taken by remote cameras that are located in national parks and conservation areas around WA. These camera images also help monitor numbers of foxes and feral cats in an area to inform on-ground management strategies.
Western Shield also contributes to a range of educational programs in both primary and secondary schools, helping to improve the community’s knowledge of threatened species and the role fox and feral cat management can play in ensuring the survival of native fauna in the wild.
As stated by Environment Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson:
“Introduced feral foxes and cats remain the single biggest threat to the survival and persistence of our vulnerable native animals.
“Over 25 years, as one of the largest conservation programs in Australia, Western Shield has achieved remarkable success in managing feral predators such as foxes and cats.
“The program continues to safeguard our native wildlife from extinction.
“Science is key to the program’s success, with DBCA researchers developing and testing the management methods used to control introduced predators. Decades of scientific effort have refined tools that are proving effective at controlling foxes and feral cats in a range of different environments across WA.”