By Claire Ottaviano
FEARS the only native population of Western Swamp Tortoise had been wiped out by last week’s fire have been put to rest with confirmation this week of their survival.
Despite about 90 per cent of the Ellen Brook Nature Reserve being burnt, the last self-sustaining population of the tortoise was safely burrowed underground, with only one fatality reported.
“Fortunately, Mother Nature has looked after these little reptiles for thousands of years, and the bushfire season coincides with their aestivation (hibernation),” Friends of the Western Swamp Tortoise chairperson Jan Bant said.
“They should all have been cosily tucked up underground while the fire swept over them.”
Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) staff began searching the reserve on February 2 for any Western Swamp Tortoises that had been impacted by the bushfire.
One dead tortoise was found with another treated for dehydration.
DBCA staff are conducting daily inspections of the reserve with Perth Zoo ready to assist with any injured animals.
“DBCA immediately commenced work to repair sections of the predator exclusion fence that were cut to contain the fire in the southern section of the reserve,” A DBCA spokesperson said.
“The rest of the fence has also been inspected to ensure it is secure.”
The Western Swamp Tortoise is one of the most critically endangered tortoises in Australia.
There are less than 50 adult tortoises living in the wild, in two sites in the Swan Valley; Twin Swamps and Ellen Brook Nature Reserves.
They are protected by an electric fence to keep predators out.
Sand pads used to track predator activity will be monitored over the next week and additional feral animal control measures considered if activity is reported.
Further rehabilitation of the reserve and the bushfire containment lines are planned.
Friends of Western Swamp Tortoise are assisting the department and while public assistance is not needed at this time, revegetation works and replanting will take place in early winter.
Updates can be found at www.westernswamptortoise.com.au and via Facebook.