Western Swamp Tortoise - Fundraising for Australian Wildlife - FNPW

Western Swamp Tortoise

  • YEAR: 2012
  • STATE: Western Australia
  • FOCUS AREAS: Saving Species/SDG 15: Life on Land

The Western Swamp Tortoise is one of Australia’s most endangered reptiles. It is only 15 cm in length and is found in Western Australia. Its name is the clue to its unique behaviour – it can only survive in a particular type of swamp with clay and sand that fill with water for only a short period each year. When the swamp dries up, the tortoises aestivate (a type of hibernation) and re-emerge to feed and breed once winter rains start.

FNPW support

This project was funded through generous donations from FNPW supporters across Australia and beyond.

Project overview

Increasing the population of Western Swamp Tortoises presents some challenges. They are slow to reproduce and need specific conditions to survive to adulthood. Their numbers once declined so much they were thought to be extinct and it has been a long slow recovery process. Captive breeding programs have been largely successful, however because of the small numbers of tortoises living in very few local habitats, genetic diversity has proved difficult to achieve.

FNPW has funded research to gather vital information using molecular markers to manage breeding pairs within the captive breeding program and choose optimum release sites.

Once successfully released into nature reserves, the tortoises still face threats. Much of their habitat has been cleared or modified and the wetlands no longer fill with sufficient water over the breeding season. Their habitat may not always sustain enough food for healthy populations that feed on insects, larvae, crustaceans, invertebrates, tadpoles and frogs that live in the swamp.

Like many native animals, Western Swamp Tortoises are prey to feral foxes, cats and rats and vulnerable to bushfires. They also have native predators – crows, goannas and birds of prey. Captive breeding ensures their populations will no longer dramatically decline as they have in the past.

This project used genetic markers to evaluate diversity, an important tool providing data to inform decisions that will maintain or increase the gene pool in each location within the broader Western Swamp Tortoise Recovery Plan. Ongoing monitoring and evaluation will give Western Swamp Tortoises a secure future in their swampy homes.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF COUNTRY

FNPW supports projects across Australia. In the spirit of reconciliation we acknowledge the Traditional Owners of Country and recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture.

PROGRESS OF THIS PROJECT

FNPW has supported the protection of the Western Swamp Tortoise since 2012.

PROJECT PARTNERS

The University of Western Australia is the lead organisation for this project.

Further information about our project partner can be found on their website:

www.uwa.edu.au/research/ecology-and-conservation

Related Projects

1 Million Turtles

Over the last 40 years, the most common and widespread species of Murray River turtles have declined by up to 91%. The 1 Million Turtles Project will create the blueprint for “headstarting” as an inexpensive landscape-scale approach to conservation.

QLD Seagrass Dispersal

Research is underway into the link between endangered Green Sea Turtles, vulnerable Dugongs, and seagrass, to increase survival rates for all. Floods and cyclones wiped out 98% of the seagrass meadows between Cairns and Townsville (over 400 km!) in 2010-11, which saw a more than double increase in annual dugong and sea turtle deaths in 2011-12.

Christmas Island Reptiles

Reptile species only found on Christmas Island are being saved from extinction through a captive breeding program established in 2009. Since then, FNPW and our supporters have funded two projects in 2013 and 2015 to house the growing reptile populations.

Backyard Buddies

Backyard Buddies is a free education initiative run by the Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife. It gives you simple tips to transform your backyard into a safe and inviting habitat haven. You can explore, create and help your own backyard buddies, to help them survive and to thrive into the future.