A major boost today for one of Australia’s rarest reptiles, the Western Swamp Tortoise, with an increase in the habitat available to the last self-sustaining population left in the world. *
Up to 70 Western Swamp Tortoises live in 40 hectares of seasonal wetlands, protected by a fox-proof fence, in Ellen Brook Nature Reserve near Perth.
Today that fenced area was expanded to 45 hectares with an extension officially opened by Threatened Species Commissioner Dr Sally Box.
The five hectares of additional habitat has undergone years of rehabilitation, with weeds replaced by native plants, and deeper pools created to help retain water.
The habitat rehabilitation work has been supported by Perth NRM through their Living Landscapes Program. Friends of Yanchep National Park and Green Army teams have also assisted with growing seedlings and planting.
WWF-Australia, the Friends of the Western Swamp Tortoise and the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions have worked together to restore the degraded habitat, dig new ponds, and extend the predator-proof fence.
The fence extension has been funded primarily through a $50,000 State NRM Community Action Grant.
“The additional protected habitat gives this critically endangered tortoise some extra room to move and increase in number,” said Shenaye Hummerston, a species conservation coordinator with WWF-Australia.
“It’s a shot in the arm for a species believed extinct for more than a century,” she said.
Western Swamp Tortoise numbers have been devastated by habitat destruction, fox predation and a drying climate.
The tortoise feeds in swamps that only fill during winter and spring. In summer and autumn, when the swamps dry out, they go underground or hide under leaf litter and become dormant in a process similar to hibernation.
If the swamps dry out too quickly, hatchlings can’t grow enough to survive their first summer and egg-carrying females – emerging from their dormant period – may struggle to find a drink.
“This has been a challenge for the species in recent decades because of Perth’s drying climate,” Ms Hummerston said.
“We created deeper pools in the restored habitat to hold water for longer and native plants will provide shade, reducing evaporation.
“We’re giving this species the best possible chance to bounce back,” she said.
* It will take decades to determine if one other wild population and two translocated insurance populations are self-sustaining.