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The western swamp tortoise is Australia's most endangered reptile. Picture: CHRISTINA MYKYTIUK/ WWF-AUS

More land for rare tortoise

WESTERN Swamp Tortoises that call Ellen Brook Nature Reserve home had a win this month with the extention of their habitat. 

Up to 70 tortoises, believed to be the last self-sustaining population in the world and one of Australia’s rarest reptiles, live in 40ha of seasonal wetlands, protected by a fox-proof fence in the reserve. 

On June 1 that area expanded to 45ha with an official opening by Threatened Species Commissioner Dr Sally Box.

World Wildlife Fund Australia (WWF-Australia), the Friends of the Western Swamp Tortoise and the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions worked together to restore the 5ha of degraded habitat, dig new ponds, and extend the predator-proof fence.

“The additional protected habitat gives this critically endangered tortoise some extra room to move and increase in number,” said WWF Australia species conservation coordinator Shenaye Hummerston.

“It’s a shot in the arm for a species believed extinct for more than a century,” she said.

Rehabilitation work has also received support from Perth Natural Resource Management, who provided a $50,000 community action grant, and Friends of Yanchep National Park.

The tortoise feeds in swamps that only fill during winter and spring when the swamps dry out in summer and autumn they become dormant underground or under leaf litter.

If the swamps dry out too quickly, hatchlings can not grow enough to survive their first summer.

“This has been a challenge for the species in recent decades because of Perth’s drying climate,” Ms Hummerston said.

“We created deeper pools in the restored habitat to hold water for longer and native plants will provide shade, reducing evaporation.

“We’re giving this species the best possible chance to bounce back,” she said.

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