Slow but steady progress


The Advocate (Perth) - - FRONT PAGE - Lisa Thomas

THE western swamp tor­toise could be taken off the crit­i­cally en­dan­gered list in as lit­tle as five years af­ter 30 years of try­ing to get the species back from the brink of ex­tinc­tion.

The species, which has pro­tected habi­tats in Bulls­brook and Up­per Swan, only had 30 sur­viv­ing tor­toises left in the wild in 1989 but thanks to a breed­ing pro­gram at the Perth Zoo, the Depart­ment of Parks and Wildlife and ded­i­cated vol­un­teers from Friends of the Western Swamp Tor­toise, the 500th ju­ve­nile was suc­cess­fully re­leased into the wild last year.

Friends of the Western Swamp Tor­toise chair­woman Jan Bant said the pro­gram had also reached a mile­stone, with its first lot of hatch­lings born nat­u­rally at the re­serve last year and not from the Perth Zoo breed­ing pro­gram.

She said once the ju­ve­nile tor­toises reached ma­tu­rity in the next five years, they could be counted to­wards pop­u­la­tion num­bers and the species could be down­listed from crit­i­cally en­dan­gered to en­dan­gered.

“We have re­leased a lot of tor­toises into the re­serve, but the prob­lem is we are only re­leas­ing ju­ve­niles and it takes up to 15 years for them to ma­ture and breed, so we haven’t reached the stage where we have enough breed­ing adults to get off the crit­i­cally en­dan­gered list,” she said.

“We’ve also had two hatch­lings that haven’t come from the zoo and it’s the first time we have seen this. It’s ex­cel­lent to know re­cruit­ment is tak­ing place and the pro­gram is suc­cess­ful and the habi­tat is help­ing them thrive and en­cour­age breed­ing.”

The species are found in two re­serves – the Ellen Brook and Twin Swamps – which are both mon­i­tored by the Depart­ment of Parks and Wildlife.

She said the pro­gram had very few fa­tal­i­ties, but was con­cerned as high-den­sity de­vel­op­ment con­tin­ued to hap­pen in the area more pres­sure would be placed on the species.

“Twin Swamps is safe, but if there are any tor­toises out­side of the re­serve they will not sur­vive,” she said.

“With the de­vel­op­ment of Ellenbrook and neigh­bour­ing sub­di­vi­sions, the tor­toises in the Ellen Brook re­serve will be at risk from grow­ing pol­lu­tion and is­sues re­sult­ing from in­creased de­vel­op­ment, so it’s im­por­tant to find more habi­tats for the tor­toise as this hap­pens.”

The Depart­ment of Parks and Wildlife is hold­ing a trial study this year to see if the western swamp tor­toise can sur­vive in habi­tat in Au­gusta in the state’s South-West.

Ms Bant said cli­mate change was a se­ri­ous threat to the species.

“The fu­ture looks bright, not only be­cause they are thriv­ing in the habi­tat but also be­cause sci­en­tists are work­ing to com­bat the im­pact of cli­mate change on the species by find­ing other habi­tat,” she said.

“I feel con­fi­dent that we are see­ing an in­crease in num­bers and we are work­ing on many dif­fer­ent lev­els to en­sure that this species will con­tinue to grow.”

Pic­ture: David Baylis­mu­ni­ d466835

Friends of the Western Swamp Tor­toise chair­woman Jan Bant is hope­ful of tak­ing the lit­tle crea­tures off the en­dan­gered species list in a few years.

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