When French explorers Nicholas Baudin and François Péron visited Shark Bay in 1801 there were 23 species of mammals. Less than half of them remained in 1990.
These local extinctions were due to habitat destruction and competition for food by stock and rabbits and predation by introduced foxes and cats. Project Eden was launched to reverse this ecological destruction.
Vegetation and habitat recovered after cattle and sheep were removed. Acacia shrubs grew much more densely with seedlings able to grow and foods favoured by stock - delicate annuals, creepers and grasses – also returned.
Captive breeding pens were established to supply native animals for reintroduction to the peninsula. While a number of native animals were reintroduced, only two were successful - the bilby and mallefowl.
Project Eden successfully translocated bilbies to Peron Peninsula
Feral animal control
There was a full suite of introduced animals on Peron Peninsula when the government of Western Australia purchased the Peron pastoral station in 1990 – goats, sheep, cattle, rabbits, foxes and cats.
Feral animal control began with the removal of more than 15,000 sheep and cattle and about 12,500 goats in the early 1990s.
Project Eden launched in 1995 with the construction of a fence across the narrow neck of Peron Peninsula about 75km south of Cape Peron, along with a poison baiting program to reduce fox and cat numbers. The fence was built to prevent movement of feral animals north of the isthmus.
When the fence was constructed and the control program began there were an estimated 2500 foxes on the peninsula. Virtual elimination of foxes was achieved in the first year when the dried meat baits containing 1080 poison were dispersed across the peninsula.
Baiting of the peninsula continues and the rare fox that makes it north of the fence is quickly removed. Feral cats are also susceptible to 1080 poison when live prey is scarce.
The 1080 baits have since been refined to be more palatable to cats and have been taken by up to 80% of cats during drought periods.
In the late 1990’s intensive leg-hold trapping was carried out for feral cat research and population control. Lures using different sounds and smells were used for a number of years and much was learnt about the breeding, behaviour and diet of cats while helping control their numbers. Cage trapping was also trialled but was not successful, in part due to some of the reintroduced native animals entering the traps. Aerial 1080 baiting is now the only cat control method.
Rabbits persist on the peninsula with population fluctuations through the year. Myxomatosis and more recently calicivirus have helped control their numbers. It is hoped that a new strain of calicivirus released in 2017 will significantly reduce rabbit numbers again.
Goats have a major impact on vegetation and native species habitat
The Peron Captive Breeding Centre was established in 1996 to provide animals for reintroduction to Peron Peninsula. The centre bred more than 300 animals from five species – the western barred bandicoot, bilby, rufous hare-wallaby (mala), banded hare-wallaby and malleefowl.
The centre also improved understanding about reproduction, behaviour, diet and physiology of some arid environment species and has contributed to conservation of the hare-wallabies and other threatened species.
The Peron Captive Breeding Centre ceased operations in October 2013 after completing its translocation targets. At that stage it was too early to begin translocation preparations for the Dirk Hartog Island Return to 1616 project.
Find out about the status of Project Eden's translocations.
Banded hare-wallabies at the Peron Captive Breeding Centre