Western Shield is one of the largest wildlife conservation programs ever undertaken in Australia. It aims to protect native animals within DBCA managed land and selected remnant bushland areas of Western Australia with the intent of returning native species diversity to levels comparable to pre-European settlement. The program has a particular focus on threatened species.
Western Shield is working to protect Western Australia's native wildlife through the broadscale management of introduced predators including foxes and feral cats. Management of introduced predators has facilitated increases in the population size and distribution of a number of priority native species including the numbat, quokka, western brush wallaby and black-flanked rock-wallaby.
The management of introduced predators across more than three million hectares of DBCA managed land and associated partner areas occur on a regular and ongoing basis.
Involving the community
Community support is vital to Western Shield's success.
Western Shield has an important role in informing the community about the threats to WA's native fauna, and what is being done to reduce these threats.
You can become involved in Western Shield through:
The Western Shield Action Pack (available for download at the bottom of this page) is a great, free resource for teachers. Nearer to Nature teaches children about threatened animal species, the importance of remnant bushland, and how scientists measure biological values. All of the programs enable children to get hands-on experience.
Landholders can help by controlling foxes and feral cats on their properties to assist Western Shield. Find out about managing declared pest animals on your land from the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development WA under Pest Animals.
See for yourself
Barna Mia holds night time walks and talks for the public, telling people about the history of land-use, and the impact of foxes and feral cats on Western Australia's wildlife. You get to tour the enclosure, getting a close view of some of the native animals that the Parks and Wildlife Service is breeding in captivity.
Managing the threats
Fox and feral cat management is essential to the recovery of wildlife in Western Australia.
Western Shield is actively reducing the impact of foxes and feral cats on WA's native animals, with a particular focus on threatened species.
The program manages introduced predators using a number of methods but most broadscale management across 3.7 million hectares of DBCA and partnership land is conducted using baits containing the naturally occurring toxin, 1080.
European red fox (Vulpes vulpes):
The arrival of the fox in the south-west in the late 1920s coincided with a steep decline in the numbers of smaller native mammals in the southern part of the State. Foxes are highly adaptive and mobile predators that prey on a variety of small- to medium-sized animals. Foxes were deliberately released into Victoria in the 1860s for fox hunting. It followed the spread of the introduced rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus).
Feral cats (Felis catus)
Feral cats arrived in Australia during European settlement and they are now widespread across Australia. It is estimated that there are between 15 and 23 million feral cats across Australia (Woinarski et al., 2015). Feral cats pose a substantial threat to WA’s native animals, particularly in arid and semi-arid areas where foxes are less common. Feral cats are the same species as domestic cats, but survive in the wild without human reliance or contact. They are a declared species under the Biosecurity and Agriculture Management Act 2007 (BAM Act). Find out more about cats at agric.wa.gov.au/pest-mammals/feral-cats. Fox and feral cat control is essential to the recovery of wildlife in Western Australia.
Research shows that the best way to ensure the survival of native animals in the wild is to manage feral predators through baiting.
Without fox and feral cat baiting, the native species protected by the Western Shield program could be lost forever, or only found in small, fenced reserves.
What are the baits made of?
A naturally occurring toxin found in pea plants from the Gastrolobium genus provides Western Australia with a natural advantage in managing introduced predators in our state. Many species of Gastrolobium contain sodium fluoroacetate, which is synthetically produced under the name 1080. Native animals have evolved with these plants and have developed a tolerance to the toxin. However it is lethal, even in tiny amounts, to introduced foxes and feral cats, as well as domestic cats and dogs. Pet owners need to be aware and avoid taking domestic animals into areas managed for foxes and or feral cats. The 1080 poison is injected into salami-like sausages, called Probait®, which are then dried to make them hard and less palatable to native animals, although they are attractive to foxes. Cats are very sensitive to 1080 but prefer live prey, so they do not normally eat the dried meat baits used to control foxes. Parks and Wildlife Service staff have developed smaller, tastier and moister 1080 sausage baits, more appetising to feral cats, called Eradicat®. 1080 breaks down quickly in the soil without any environmental side effects. However, baits, and the flesh of animals that have died from 1080 poisoning, can remain toxic to dogs and cats for months. All 1080 products used by the Parks and Wildlife Service have been approved for use by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority and are used according to the label or research permit requirement and the Department of Health's Code of practice for the safe use and management of registered pesticides containing 1080, PAPP and strychnine.
What other management methods are used?
Other methods of fox and feral cat management, such as fencing, trapping and shooting are used in specific locations to protect extremely vulnerable native species.
Where we bait
Western Shield's fox and feral cat baiting program is carried out over nearly 3.8 million hectares across the State, from Cape Arid National Park east of Esperance in the south, to Murujuga National Park near Karratha in the north. It includes forests of the south-west, rangeland sites and numerous Wheatbelt reserves.
- The Parks and Wildlife Service deploys most 1080 fox and feral cat baits from the air, as this is the most effective way to cover large areas.
- It carries out aerial fox baiting across the whole 3.8 million hectares multiple times a year, and feral cat baiting once a year, using a specially modified aircraft, which can drop baits with great precision.
- Ground baiting is also undertaken for more targeted control of foxes and feral cats, and in smaller, more isolated reserves (usually once a month), or in areas with highly sensitive species because foxes from surrounding, unbaited areas can quickly return to these areas.
When are baits laid?
Baiting activities, as well as other management options, are carefully timed. Eradicat® is laid at times when prey is scarce, so feral cats are more likely to eat them. Probait® is used year-round to control foxes. Baits are distributed aerially and from the ground by specially trained staff and contractors. Areas subject to baiting by the Parks and Wildlife Service should be considered unsafe for domestic pets at all times.
Facts and figures
- The Parks and Wildlife Service lays approximately one million baits each year — 400,000 fox baits and 600,000 feral cat baits.
- The baiting aircraft drops five fox baits per square kilometre (or one bait for every 20 hectares)/50 feral cat baits per square kilometre (or 10 baits for every 20 hectares).
- Fox baiting generally takes place every three months, but once a year for feral cats.
- It usually takes eight weeks to aerially bait the 3.8 million hectares.
- The baiting aircraft is in the air for about eight months each year.
More about 1080
- The facts of 1080: An environmentally responsible option for invasive species control
- The Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development has information for landholders who want to control foxes and feral cats on their property, and to support the work of Western Shield.
Please note the following documents will open on the legacy Parks and Wildlife Service website.
- Perception of pain associated with 1080 poisoning (PDF 29.31KB) by Graham Gregory
- Feral cat control as part of Rangelands Restoration at Lorna Glen (Matuwa), Western Australia: the first seven years (PDF 688KB) by Dave Algar, Mike Onus and Neil Hamilton.
To ensure that Western Shield’s management is effective, we monitor how native animal populations are responding to the reduction in predator pressure. The Parks and Wildlife Service monitors animal populations at selected sites within baited areas in various ways, usually by trapping (and releasing) the animals that need to be monitored.
Western Shield's monitoring shows that the baiting of foxes and feral cats is having a positive effect on the State's native animals. The success of Western Shield and previous programs has resulted in the removal of the woylie, tammar wallaby and quenda from Western Australia's threatened species list.
Unfortunately, monitoring since 2001 showed an unexpected and rapid decline in the population of woylies across the south-west of Western Australia.
The woylie is now re-listed as threatened, and the department is conducting research to see why numbers are falling and to aid in the recovery of the species. Fortunately, woylie numbers have now started to increase but we will continue to monitor their populations closely.
Monitoring and evaluation also means that Western Shield can be regularly reviewed to make it even more effective by:
- modifying the baiting prescription of a particular area
- trialling new management options in complement with baiting
- reallocating funds as new priorities emerge
- improving baiting and monitoring.
Located in Western Australia's Wheatbelt, Dryandra is a stronghold for some of the State's most precious native animals - the woylie (Bettongia penicillata) and numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus) - and the Parks and Wildlife Service is working with the community to secure their future. Learn about the positive impact the Western Shield program is having at Dryandra.
Rebuilding threatened populations
At sites such as Dryandra Woodland, Peron Peninusla, Lorna Glen and Upper Warren, the Parks and Wildlife Service is attempting to increase the diversity and distribution of native species, improving the capacity of these ecosystems to function more effectively.
The loss of a native animal species can severely damage the ecology of an area.
- For example, a single woylie (Bettongia penicillata ogilbyi) can turn over nearly five tonnes of soil each year searching for underground, truffle-like fungi. This activity:
- disperses fungal spores that assist plant growth
- helps leaf litter decomposition, reducing fuel loads (reducing risk of bushfires) and higher nutrient recycling
- allows water to penetrate better into otherwise water-repellent soil
- improves seed germination.
- Woylies are also very important for some plants, such as sandalwood (Santalum spicatum), as they help spread and germinate their seeds by burying them for 'later'.
Captive breeding programs are suitable for some threatened species where numbers are very low in the wild.
Captive-bred animals may be released into the wild to boost existing populations or establish new populations. This takes a lot of planning and consideration of animal welfare, and genetic issues are critical to the success of captive breeding.
Perth Zoo's captive breeding program has been critically important for a number of species including the western swamp tortoise, numbat and dibbler.
Translocation — reintroducing captive-bred or other animals to re-establish or boost populations in the wild — is used to help threatened species recover.
The success of translocations relies heavily on the Parks and Wildlife Service being able to control introduced predators through Western Shield. Translocations take a lot of planning and involve a range of staff coming together from many disciplines to ensure the success of a translocation. Consideration is given to animal welfare and population genetics for long-term success.
More than 100 animal translocations have been carried out throughout the State since 1996 under Western Shield. It has also provided animals for translocation programs in other states.
'Return to 1616': a success story
The Return to 1616 project aims to restore the animals, vegetation and habitats of Dirk Hartog Island National Park to their original condition, when Dirk Hartog first visited the island on 25 October 1616.
The island has experienced significant pressure from feral animals since that time. Sheep and goats both changed the vegetation, while efficient new predators, feral cats, added to the impact on native animal species, leading to the local extinction of several species of small mammals and one bird.
Return to 1616 brings hope. Sheep removal was completed in 2016, goats followed soon after in 2017 and feral cats were declared eradicated from the island in 2018. With feral cats gone, the animals that couldn't survive the impact of feral species are slowly being returned with translocations of rufous and banded hare-wallabies, dibblers and Shark Bay bandicoots. A total of 13 species of animals are planned for reintroduction to the island over the next 10 years.
Species we are protecting
Western Shield aims to protect native species that are vulnerable to predation by foxes and feral cats. These are primarily small and medium-sized mammals, as well as some ground-nesting birds, small- to medium-sized songbirds and reptiles.
- Bilby (Macrotis lagotis)
- Black-flanked rock-wallaby (Petrogale lateralis lateralis)
- Boodie or burrowing bettong (Bettongia lesueur lesueur)
- Chuditch (Dasyurus geoffroii)
- Dibbler (Parantechinus apicalis)
- Djoongari or Shark Bay mouse (Pseudomys fieldi)
- Gilbert's potoroo (Potorous tridactylus gilbertii)
- Kenngoor or red-tailed phascogale (Phascogale calura)
- Mala or rufous hare-wallaby (Lagorchestes hirsutus)
- Marl or western barred bandicoot (Perameles bougainville)
- Mernine or banded hare-wallaby (Lagostrophus fasciatus)
- Numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus)
- Quenda or southern brown bandicoot (Isoodon obesulus fusciventer)
- Quokka (Setonix brachyurus)
- Tammar wallaby (Macropus eugenii)
- Western ringtail possum (Pseudocheirus occidentalis)
- Wopilkara or greater stick-nest rat (Leporillus conditor)
- Woylie or brush-tailed bettong (Bettongia penicillata ogilbyi)
- Malleefowl (Leipoa ocellata)
- Noisy scrub-bird (Atrichornis clamosus)
- Western bristlebird (Dasyornis longirostris)
- Western ground parrot (Pezoporus wallicus flaviventris)
- Western swamp tortoise (Pseudemydura umbrina)
- Western spiny-tailed skink (Egernia stokesii badia)
Other, less threatened species benefit from predator control, including:
- Common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecular)
- Ground nesting birds
- Some reptiles such as carpet python (Morelia spilota)