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Thirty western swamp tortoises released into the wild

Thirty western swamp tortoises released into the wild

THIRTY western swamp tortoises have a new home in the Moore River Nature Reserve thanks to conservation efforts to save the species.

Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions released the reptiles yesterday as part of conservation efforts to save one of Australia’s most critically endangered reptiles from extinction.

The department’s senior research scientist Gerald Kuchling said the August 29 release was crucial to strengthen wild populations of the species with only four known and monitored populations in WA.

“The western swamp tortoise is Australia’s rarest and most critically endangered reptile, with habitat loss, low rainfall and predation by foxes, pigs, rats and ravens the major causes for its decline,” he said.

Dr Kuchling said less than 50 individuals survived 30 years ago, but a conservation program was helping to increase numbers.

“Since 1988 in a collaborative partnership with Perth Zoo we have been running a successful breeding program and have been able to translocate captive-bred juveniles to three sites since 1994,” he said.

“Moore River Nature Reserve offers good habitat and ongoing control of feral predators and this translocation allows us to boost the western swamp tortoise population there, which was first established in 2007.

“Some of the 146 juveniles previously released there have already reached maturity and started breeding with new hatchlings recorded.”

Perth Zoo keeper Bradie Durell said they weighed, measured and marked the tortoises before release to monitor their growth and progress in the reserve over coming years.

Mr Durell said the program had successfully bred more than 1040 western swamp tortoises since it started almost 30 years ago.

“The ones released are generally aged around three years old as they are less vulnerable to predators and to drought than hatchlings,” he said.

“The tortoises are a long-lived native species but take around eight to 15 years to mature and have a slow breeding rate.”

The species’ recovery actions are part of the department’s wildlife program Western Shield and involves Perth Zoo, UWA, the Friends of the Western Swamp Tortoise community group and Ellen Brockman Integrated Catchment Group.