Western Swamp Tortoise
Article | Updated 6 months ago
DPAW’s Threatened Fauna: An Overview – Western Swamp Tortoise
Western Australia’s Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPAW) keeps an extensive list of threatened fauna in line with the Wildlife Conservation Act. On this list, 26 reptiles are listed as “fauna that is rare or likely to become extinct.” This includes the Western Swamp Tortoise, otherwise known as the Short-necked Tortoise, or Western Swamp Turtle.
What is a Western Swamp Tortoise?
This short-necked tortoise’s preferred habitats are the ephemeral winter swamplands of the Swan Coastal Plain. Unfortunately, their already small range has dwindled to a narrow strip near WA’s capital city, Perth, due to factors such as urbanisation and agriculture.
Perth’s increasingly dry climate is also affecting Western Swamp Tortoise numbers. The female tortoises are thought to need at least two consecutive years of relatively high rainfall in order to produce eggs, and following this, young hatchlings must reach a specific weight in order to survive their first summer. This is particularly hard to achieve when rainfall is low, as food supplies run short.
Western Swamp Tortoises lay their eggs in an underground nest, usually depositing a clutch of 3-5 eggs in November-December. These hard-shelled eggs hatch the following winter, and will grow slowly from this point onwards. Sexual maturity is reached anywhere from 11-15+ years of age. It is not known exactly how long a Western Swamp Tortoise can live for given ideal conditions, however estimates reach to 60+ years.
The Western Swamp Tortoise is does not have a fixed territory or home range, and will rove across relatively large areas in search of their preferred food types. Their typical diet consists of insect larvae, crustaceans, earthworms and tadpoles.
These tortoises are most active during the spring, when they work on increasing their fat supplies for the upcoming summer-autumn aestivation period.
What is being done to help save this species?
In an effort to try and extend the Western Swamp Tortoises range, populations have been translocated to Mogumber Nature Reserve and Moore River National Park.
A recovery plan has also been initiated for the Western Swamp Tortoise, which states states several main recovery actions that are critical to achieve if the Western Swamp Tortoise population is to be stabilised and, hopefully, increased.
These actions include population monitoring, the management and extension of nature reserves, and captive breeding.
The Western Swamp Tortoise, like many of our native animals, has suffered from the introduction of feral pests and widespread habitat destruction. Community awareness plays a critical role is saving such species. To find out more, please visit the DPAW website.
Also see the Perth Zoo website for more information on their Western Swamp Tortoise breeding program.