Key words: predators, feral cat, adaptive management, natural area management, threatened species
The Western Ground Parrot (‘kyloring’ to Noongar people) may be the ‘canary in the coal mine’ warning of imminent fauna collapse on the south coast of WA. Over the past decade, this species has undergone a dramatic decline, with the population currently estimated at 140 individuals. This is causing alarm bells to ring, as there is concern that a range of other threatened animals on the south coast may be at risk from the same threatening processes – species such as Gilberts Potoroo, Red-tailed Phascogale, Dibbler, Noisy Scrub-bird, Chuditch, Western Bristlebird and Malleefowl. Considerable progress in fire management strategies for these species has been made by WA’s Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) over the last few decades, and fox baiting under the Department’s Western Shield program has been in place since 1996. Despite these programs, however, the Ground Parrot population decline continued, leading to the hypothesis that control of foxes has resulted in an increase in the feral cat population (i.e. mesopredator release), with a corresponding increase in predation on native fauna.
Field trials of Eradicat® baits have been completed under a research permit in Fitzgerald River National Park. Half of the collared cats were killed by these baits, and bait uptake by non-target species was minimal. In 2011 this trial has been extended to include Cape Arid National Park where 19 cats have been fitted with collars, providing direct evidence of bait uptake. Monitoring of predator activity provides additional information on the success of cat baiting. Should this strategy prove effective, the benefits in the wider landscape will be significant.
Several clear lessons arise from this work. First, it requires meaningful and ongoing interaction between researchers and managers to carry out robust field-scale adaptive management projects. Second, we have found that institutional barriers such as inappropriate funding timelines can waste the time of project leaders required to continually secure funding and retain skilled staff. Finally, while there is notional support for adaptive management, it is difficult to convince people to support its implementation adequately.
Funding for this project has come from the Department of Environment and Conservation, State NRM, South Coast NRM Inc, Exetel Pty Ltd, Birds Australia and many volunteers. Numerous people have been active in this project including Sarah Comer, Cameron Tiller, Allan Burbidge, Abby Berryman and Deon Utber.
Comer, S., Burbidge, A. H., Tiller, C., Berryman, A., and Utber, D. (2010). Heeding Kyloring’s warning: south coast species under threat. Landscope 26(1), 48-53.
Contact: Sarah Comer (Department of Environment and Conservation, 120 Albany Highway, Albany, Western Australia 6330; tel (08) 9842 4500; email firstname.lastname@example.org) or Allan Burbidge (Department of Environment and Conservation, PO Box 51, Wanneroo, Western Australia 6946; tel (08) 9405 5100; email email@example.com)