Good news on National Threatened Species Day

September 7 is National Threatened Species Day, and we’d like to highlight a good news story for our little friend, the western swamp tortoise. In addition to losing much of their habitat on the Swan Coastal Plain, tortoises face the additional threat of climate change, as the seasonal swamps they inhabit will hold water for increasingly shorter periods of time. Recovery of the western swamp tortoise depends on securing and drought-proofing high-quality habitat in their indigenous range, and exploring new conservation options that account for future climate change.

Assisted colonisation is the intentional translocation of species outside their indigenous range to mitigate a threat, and has been explored as an option for the tortoise by researchers from the University of Western Australia (UWA) for over a decade. Assisted colonisation trials to measure growth rates of tortoises in cooler climates began in 2016, with juveniles bred at the Perth Zoo released to two locations ~ 300 km south of Perth. These southern wetlands were cooler and had longer hydro-periods than those near Perth, and were expected to offer ideal micro-climates for western swamp tortoises in about 20 years. Juveniles fared particularly well in one of the southern wetlands near the small township of East Augusta, and grew comparable amounts to those released at warmer translocation sites, such as at Moore River. It is thought that the good growth was achieved partly due to the abundance of aquatic food resources such as tadpoles, and longer wet periods resulting in longer times for foraging. A second assisted colonisation trial in 2018-19 revealed that bio-tags attached to tortoises could help researchers reconstruct how tortoises behaved in different climates – and in particular, to identify the weather conditions that allowed them to be active.

A third assisted colonisation trial has just commenced in the East Augusta region in August 2021, with the objective of understanding whether the energy requirements of the species can be met in cooler climates, over both the short- and long-term. More than 70 tortoises bred at Perth Zoo were released, and most are carrying small tags that record their activity and shell temperature. If the trial is successful, the tortoises may have a new area to call home, and one that could safeguard the species as the climate changes. The research at East Augusta is being led by UWA researchers (primarily PhD candidate Bethany Nordstrom), with the support of many staff at the Dept of Biodiversity Conservation & Attractions and the Western Swamp Tortoise Recovery Team. The Friends of the Western Swamp Tortoise have purchased some of the bio-tags and monitoring equipment for the year-long trial, for which the research team members are very grateful!

The monitoring tower helps ensure that all the tortoises are OK
A brief hello before the tortoises are released.
A new home and a new adventure!

Tortoise Tales # 32 (2021)

In this edition of the newsletter we tell you about the devastating bushfire at Ellen Brook NR in February and how you can help us begin to rectify the damage. We also talk about the role of ‘conservation dogs’.

The fire damage is extensive, with over 90% of the reserve burnt to some degree.

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Western Swamp Tortoise

Tortoise Tales # 31 (2020)

In this edition of the newsletter we’ll talk about the most recent planting day at Ellen Brook NR, a new children’s book about the tortoise and the latest news from the Education Team.

Click here to download a PDF of this newsletter.

Tortoise Tales #30 (2020)

Our tortoise inspires artists

Our iconic Western Swamp Tortoise has recently been immortalised in several artworks around Perth. Download our newsletter here.

A two-metre-tall, formed mild steel sculpture featuring six Western Swamp Tortoises in cast silicone bronze, all displayed in natural poses, has been completed by Swan Valley artist Peter Graham. It was officially  unveiled at The Margaret River Chocolate Company (5123 West Swan Road, West Swan) on Tuesday 19th November by Martin Black, part-owner of the MRCC, as a tribute to Australia’s oldest and rarest reptile.

The new sculpture at MRCC

Martin’s staff spoiled attendees with cupcakes decorated with chocolate tortoises for morning tea. The MRCC has been donating part proceeds from the sale of each box of Western Swamp Tortoise chocolates to the Friends since 2011.

Sculptor Peter said:

‘When I was first approached to create a sculpture commemorating the Western Swamp Turtle, I considered it a fantastic opportunity to help raise the profile of this endangered animal. I must admit that the words “Chocolate Factory” also caught my attention.

‘Working with the Friends of the Western Swamp Tortoise committee, I have constructed a representation of the turtle swimming among reeds and basking on fallen logs in its natural environment. This environment is rapidly shrinking as the brutal effects of clearing and man-induced climate change decimate wetlands on the Swan Coastal Plain.

‘My work is typically a response to my appreciation of the natural world and a desire to represent and protect it.’

Elizabeth Quay Mural
Elizabeth Quay mural’s tortoise

The WST also featured in a community art project at Elizabeth Quay, where participants collaborated with artist, Mel ‘Melski’ McVee to add a giant tortoise to a mural of local flora and fauna.

Parkway Project mural

Some of our local junior members assisted artist ‘Melski’ McVee with a mural at Ellenbrook.

The Parkway Project is a temporary parkland in Ellenbrook, to be in place while Metronet’s arrival draws closer. It begins at the intersection of The Parkway and Gallery Lane, and continues along The Parkway towards Ellen Stirling Gardens.

One of the artworks is titled Western Swamp Tortoise, and was painted by Mel alongside community members, over the weekend of the 7-8 December, in a paint-by-numbers style (above).