On August 23rd, 2019, Perth NRM was privileged to participate in the release of 73 Western Swamp Tortoises, bred at Perth Zoo, into the Moore River Nature Reserve.
Over 70 participants were part of the release, including representatives from Perth Zoo, Parks and Wildlife (DBCA), Perth NRM, Friends of the Western Swamp Tortoise, SERCUL, Chittering Landcare Centre, EMRC, Herdsman Lake Wildlife Centre, Friends of Forrestdale Lake and Yanchep National Park Volunteer Association and more.
Less than 30 years ago, the Western Swamp Tortoise was considered close to extinction, with the native population declining from more than 250 mature individuals in the 1960s to just 15-25 mature individuals in the late 1980s.
Fortunately, Perth Zoo introduced a breeding program in 1987. Since that time, 788 juveniles have been introduced into nature reserves to pull the species back from the threat of extinction.
The Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions announced that the August 2019 release was the largest wild release so far for the Critically Endangered native reptiles.
73 Western Swamp Tortoises aged between two and four were released into protected wetlands. Each tortoise has been weighed, microchipped and uniquely marked with visual identifiers for future study.
Western Swamp Tortoises have a very limited natural geographic distribution: in the 1960s small populations could be found between Midland, Perth Airport, Caversham and Pearce, although by the the 1980s only two significant known populations remained, at Ellen Brook Nature Reserve and Twin Swamps Nature Reserve on the Swan Coastal Plain north-east of Perth.
Currently, the Ellen Brook Nature Reserve is considered the only remnant native population, and additional adjacent land has been bought in order to expand the protection afforded to the reintroduced tortoises, protected by fox-proof fencing.
However, efforts are being made to introduce the Western Swamp Tortoises into new environments, including the Moore River Nature Reserve.
Although the Western Swamp Tortoise has a lifespan of approximately 100 years, individuals do not reach maturity until they are 8-15, so it will be some time before the tortoises released last week will reach breeding age.
However, it is hoped that breeding programs like this will ensure that this Australian native is not lost forever.
Western Swamp Tortoise
Current Species Status: Threatened (WA Wildlife Conservation Act 1950), Critically Endangered (ranking by WA Threatened Species Scientific Committee), Critically Endangered (Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999), Critical (Action Plan for Australian Reptiles, 1993), Critically Endangered under IUCN (2001) Red List Criteria A2c and D, listed as Critically Endangered in the IUCN 2010 Red List of Threatened Species.