Lack of rain a headache for the Zoo

The unseasonal climate of Perth this year, with a lack of rain, has caused a headache for the zoo, as the swamp habitat for the Western Swamp Tortoise has been unsuitable for the release of hatchlings. The swamps collected water very late in the season, and spring temperatures have meant a very short time before evaporation dried them out again.

Captive born hatchlings from the Perth Zoo were ready to be released, but Chief Scientific Investigator, Dr. Gerald Kuchling, decided the sub-optimal conditions would result in too many mortalities. The Zoo now has over 200 tortoises, and is bursting at the seams. Hopefully next winter the rains will be early, and we can release many of the animals and take the pressure off the Zoo facilities.


Swan Valley businesses work together to help the Western Swamp Tortoise

Edgecombe Brothers Winery and Café has formed a wonderful partnership with FOWST, which will help us to fund our on-ground activities and educate locals and visitors alike about the plight of this vulnerable little animal. At a cocktail party on September 21st Edgecombe launched its limited release Old Vine Shiraz, from which it has generously agreed to donate $2 from the sale of every bottle of this boutique wine to FOWST. A flyer about FOWST will also be distributed with every bottle.

It was very enjoyable evening and the winery was packed to capacity with a crowd of over 100 people including Jaye Radisich (Member for Swan Hills), Helen Morton (MLC), Charlie Gregorini (Mayor, City of Swan) and Sandra Gregorini , Charlie Zaninno (Swan Valley ward councillor) and Sally Zaninno, Frank Alban (Guildford ward councillor) and Shauna Alban, Dr Gerald Kuchling (UWA biologist) and Guundie Kuchling, and Richard McLellan from the World Wide Fund for Nature. Also present were the Consul General of Japan Mr. Hiroyuki Ariyoshi and the deputy consul Mr Yuchi Inouye and Mrs Noriko Inouye.

Between 7pm and 8.30pm the winery staff—all wearing FOWST t-shirts—served wine and delicious savoury canapés, including Edgecombe’s own fresh asparagus. 

The evening also saw the launch of Edgecombe’s Community Card, a joint venture between the winery, FOWST and Vale. Part proceeds from the sale of the cards, which entitles people to discounts at both the winery and café, are being donated to FOWST. The first 500 cards have been purchased by Multiplex at Vale for distribution to present and future residents at the neighbouring new housing development.

Following a few short speeches by Alfred Edgecombe, Jan Bant (FOWST) and Denika Thompson, the Marketing Manager of Vale, Gerald drew the raffle—for which Edgecombe donated the first prize, bottle number 0001 of the Old Vine Shiraz in a carved Marri presentation box. Guests then got to taste the Old Vine Shiraz, along with more savoury canapés, followed by dessert-style canapés, cheese, fortified wine and coffee (we certainly didn’t go hungry!)

In conjunction with the Department of Environment and Conservation (formerly CALM), FOWST will also set up a permanent display and interpretive centre at the winery to increase public awareness of the tortoise’s plight and promote the conservation of its habitat. Gerald believes the Western Swamp Tortoise is actually a flagship species for the whole swamp ecosystem. By preserving it, he says, we can protect an entire habitat and all the species that live within it.


FOWST wins third Community Conservation Grant

The Friends of the Western Swamp Tortoise was delighted to receive its third Community Conservation Grant in three years, after applying to help the Perth Zoo build a prototype new Captive Breeding Tank.

The Director of Animal Health and Research, in her letter of support for the application, said ‘The old ponds have become insecure and leak continually to such an extent that we have to have taps running constantly into them to maintain water in them for the tortoises.’

The design that has been developed, in consultation with Gerald Kuchling and DEC staff, lifts the ponds above ground level, which has two major advantages:

Firstly this will greatly reduce back strain for the keeping staff caring for the tortoises, currently staff must walk across narrow planks and then lean over into the ponds to catch a tortoise.

The new design will allow them to work while standing up and make locating and catching tortoises far easier and safer.

The new design also includes a simple filtration system. The current design of breeding and holding ponds does not include any filtration so we rely on the constant changeover of water to maintain good conditions for the tortoises, not a very sustainable design!

A contractor will begin work soon, and the pond is expected to be in use for the next breeding season.


Friends in the field

A large group of Friends attended Edgecombe Brothers Winery on Saturday 5th May to help erect the display shelter provided by the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC). When the job was completed we strolled to the Winery’s Lake Yakine at the rear of the property to see if there were any of the resident long-necked tortoises sunning themselves.

Thanks to Alf Edgecombe for plying us with refreshments to help the project along. As the venue is a wonderful tourist destination, the 3 DEC panels and Friends Group panel will be viewed by people from all over the world.

Several planting days have been held at Ellen Brook Nature Reserve to revegetate the new section of the reserve. Friends have planted both wetland and dryland plants, and Graham from DEC reports a good survival rate so far. The steady rains have sealed the clay, and the new dams are now filling. A big thanks to DEC crew members for their attendance and organization on the planting days.

Conservation Volunteers Australia, in conjunction with Midland Brick, have spent a week in the Reserve planting a wide variety of local provenance plants in the degraded areas.

Students from years 5, 6 and 7 at Mirrabooka Primary School decided after studying Threatened Species for the term, and becoming aware of the problems with declining habitat, decided to become part of the solution, requesting their teachers arrange an opportunity to revegetate the habitat of a Threatened Species. The Western Swamp Tortoise was the animal chosen, and the children went to Ellen Brook Nature Reserve in late June. Unfortunately, the previous week had been rain free, and the ground was extremely hard. One child remarked that “this isn’t soil, it is cement”.

Thanks to the DEC crew who dug 300 holes with pickaxes on the day before so that the students could realize their aim.

If you are traveling along Great Northern Highway in the vicinity of Bullsbrook, keep an eye out for the large posters on the amenities block in the park on the corner of Chittering Road. This park is a favourite stop for tourist buses to stop for morning tea, and was identified by Melanie, one of our members, as a great location for the old Gull posters (since replaced at Ginger’s Service Station by new DEC posters). She followed through with the City of Swan, who not only gave permission for them to be displayed at that location, but were happy to install them for us.

A big thanks to Melanie for her hard work on this project!The Fremantle Literature Centre has obtained the original sketches and paintings from the book Yakkin the Swamp Tortoise from Guundie and Gerald Kuchling. They will use the wonderful paintings to enhance visits by school children and demonstrate the work of an author.

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