Threatened Species Day fact sheet
Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2003
The Western Swamp Tortoise is one of Australia's most endangered reptiles. It has the smallest surviving population of any Australian reptile.
The Western Swamp Tortoise is listed as endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. This Act is the main Commonwealth legislation for protecting the environment and conserving biodiversity.
Western Swamp Tortoises are very small, growing up to 15 centimetres in shell length. They are very similar to the Long-necked Tortoise in appearance except they have a shorter neck! The Western Swamp Tortoise is unique, with an ancestry that dates back 15–20 million years.
Restricted to only two wild populations, there are less than 200 endangered Western Swamp Tortoises left. These are found near Perth in Western Australia.
During winter and spring, the tortoises live in the water, feeding on insects, larvae and tadpoles. In the drier, hotter months they shelter under leaf litter and in holes and aestivate (sleep), not re-emerging until the winter.
The Western Swamp Tortoise has always had a very restricted range and much of this has been modified or destroyed. Rainfall has also been decreasing in its habitat, which means that the wetlands where it lives are not filling up as much as they need to. Foxes prey upon the Tortoise and recent summer wildfires have killed many Tortoises during aestivation.
The Western Swamp Tortoise Recovery Team, supported by the Australian Government's Natural Heritage Trust and the Western Australian Government, is implementing a number of recovery actions for the Western Swamp Tortoise, including re-introduction of the Tortoises to nature reserves and community education. A revised Recovery Plan has been prepared and the Perth Zoo is undertaking a captive breeding program with the University of Western Australia.
Through the Australian Government, the Threatened Species Network is supporting a community group to protect and restore the habitat of the Western Swamp Tortoise. The Threatened Species Network is a community-based program funded by the Natural Heritage Trust and managed through the WWF Australia.
Here's how you can help the Western Swamp Tortoise as well as other threatened species in Western Australia:
- report sightings of the tortoise. Contact your local coordinator at the details listed on this fact sheet;
- conserve water in and around your home;
- encourage your school to become a 'Water Wise' school;
- avoid the use of fertilizers. These can wash into the rivers and swamps; and
- become involved in helping threatened species in your area. Contact your local coordinator at the details listed below to find out how.
In Western Australia, there are a number of threatened species and ecological communities that rely on wetlands and freshwater systems for survival, including the endangered Western Swamp Tortoise.
The seasonal wetlands on the Swan Coastal Plain of Western Australia, which includes Perth, are among the most diverse habitats in the region. Sixteen different plant communities, two freshwater tortoises, 51 species of lizard, 24 species of snake and 16 frog species are found in and around Perth's wetlands.
Much of the Swan Coastal Plain wetlands have already been destroyed or modified as a result of urban, industrial and agricultural development. Weeds, fire and lack of water all affect these unique wetlands. Urban development in the area creates impacts on a number of threatened species and ecological communities through pollution and loss of habitat.
As well as supporting an amazing variety of plant and animal life, wetlands:
- store carbon within the soil and the plants, helping to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere;
- replenish groundwater. Many areas of Western Australia rely extensively on groundwater for domestic and industrial water supply;
- purify the water – the plants and animals found in wetlands absorb the nutrients from stormwater. They act like a filter and keep the water clean; and
- are beautiful locations which can be used for tourism, recreation and education.
They help us to appreciate the amazing world we live in.
It is important that governments, businesses, schools, and the community work together to ensure wetlands are protected for future generations.
For more information about helping threatened species in Western Australia, contact the Threatened Species Network Coordinator:
Telephone: 08 9387 6444
You can also find out more information about Australia's threatened species by calling the Department of the Environment and Heritage Community Information Unit on free call 1800 803 772 or by visiting: www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened