Blue elephants help green tortoises!

On Saturday 21st July at the Chittering Landcare Centre ANZ bank presented a much-appreciated cheque for $10,600 to the Friends of the Western Swamp Tortoise (FoWST) group. The money had been raised from the sale of blue elephant moneyboxes at the bank’s WA branches, through an initiative of WWF Australia, with whom ANZ now has a national partnership.

The northern part of the Swan Valley is the last wild refuge of Australia’s rarest reptile—the Western Swamp Tortoise. Listed as critically endangered, this charming little animal is now under threat from a drying climate and the ongoing pressures of Perth’s growing population. Currently there are less than 50 wild mature individuals in the only two locations in the world.

The Friends of the Western Swamp Tortoise is a volunteer community group aiming to support the Department of Environment and Conservation and the Western Swamp Tortoise Recovery Team in their efforts to save this animal from extinction.

In the first part of the gathering, Christina Mykytiuk from WWF Wetland Watch spoke on the value of wetlands and how the Wetland Watch Program can help local landowners look after their wetland areas. Then Jan Bant of FoWST spoke of the tortoise’s plight and what is being done to help it. Following the cheque presentation and a sausage sizzle, Recovery Team Chief Investigator Dr Gerald Kuchling conducted a guided tour of the Ellen Brook Nature Reserve—one of the two sites where the tortoise still occurs naturally.

Dr Kuchling and his colleagues are investigating further translocation sites to increase the population in the wild. Keep an eye on the FoWST website for more details more details on how the funds raised by ANZ are being used.

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Tortoise’s champions feature on Stateline WA

It was an unexpected pleasure to see Gerald and Guundie Kuchling featured in a short item on Stateline last November. The feature focussed in part on the unusual situation of two European immigrants taking on the preservation of this uniquely West Australian animal. Most of you will realise that’s partly because the first Western Swamp Tortoise known to science was acquired by the Museum of Natural History in Vienna, where Gerald and Guundie once lived.

The program also emphasised the Kuchling’s amazing dedication to the tortoise’s conservation over the last 20 years.

“They’re relatively small, and not particularly colourful or anything, but very nice and interesting animals,” said Gerald. Guundie explained that her interest in tortoises has been lifelong, beginning when she kept Greek tortoises as pets when she was a child.

Her closing comments sum up their motivation: “I think we all have to leave our marks. I am committed to educating and entertaining children and to raising awareness that we are not alone on this planet, and we have a duty to look after other species, because if one species goes, another species goes, and we are part of the whole system.
“So I think it’s our responsibility to do something.”

FOWST hopes to obtain a DVD of the item to show at events and displays. Meantime, the transcript is available either from the ABC website or Tanya Marwood 9291 3723 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Kids love learning about their WA tortoise!

We have had several requests for information sessions about the Western Swamp Tortoise and Jan has roamed far and wide to tell the tortoise’s story. Some home-schooled children, whose parents teach them during the week, get together for environmental lessons, and were very curious about the tortoise at a recent session at Naregebup, near Rockingham.

A group of Armadale home-schoolers also enjoyed playing the Swampland Adventure Game and learning about the WST. Mirrabooka Pre Primary students made a wetland picture to put their tortoises in, and 80 children at the Baldivis Children’s Forest also learned about why the tortoise is threatened.

Several other schools are booked for this term, and we are also attending the Perth Zoo School Holiday activities to present some sessions.

Children seem to be very environmentally aware these days, and our education program, hand in hand with our on-ground works, will help ensure the Western Swamp Tortoise still exists for their children and their children’s children.

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New ponds a hit with residents and carers

The Friends of the Western Swamp Tortoise inspected the new prototype breeding tanks at the Perth Zoo in December, and gave them the thumbs up! The tanks, designed by Zoo staff, are at waist height for easy maintenance and handling of the reptiles, and have a special filtration system to keep their contents in an optimal state for the precious inhabitants. Early indications are that these tanks are a very workable alternative to current 30-year-old tanks and (as funds permit) they will replace the leaky, old, in-ground version.

The Friends of the Western Swamp Tortoise inspected the new prototype breeding tanks at the Perth Zoo in December, and gave them the thumbs up! The tanks, designed by Zoo staff, are at waist height for easy maintenance and handling of the reptiles, and have a special filtration system to keep their contents in an optimal state for the precious inhabitants. Early indications are that these tanks are a very workable alternative to current 30-year-old tanks and (as funds permit) they will replace the leaky, old, in-ground version.

The Perth Zoo has completed groundbreaking research to find the best methods of keeping the critically endangered Western Swamp Tortoise, as very little was previously known about their requirements for optimum health. Dedicated research and keen observation has refined keeping practices. (See recipe adjacent for a “happy meal” – tortoise style!) Funds for the prototype tanks were partly provided by a Community Conservation Grant awarded to the Friends group in April. Congratulations to Zoo staff for their continued success in the Captive Breeding Program.

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