Western Swamp Tortoise survival after the bushfire

Ellenbrook Reserve is the home of the only remaining wild population of Western Swamp Tortoises in the world. The bushfire in February damaged or destroyed about 90% of the vegetation in the reserve and caused concern throughout the community. Following a request from the libraries in the City of Swan and Shire of Mundaring, Bush Skills 4 Youth delivered workshops to inform families and children about the plight of this critically endangered tortoise.

The Western Swamp Tortoise is a small, short necked tortoise that can fit on an adult’s hand. It is Australia’s most endangered reptile and there are estimated to be less than 100 adults in the wild. They require a special type of swamp with clay or clay and sand bottoms that only fill with water for a short time every year. This means that for approximately half of the year they are active in the swamps and for the other half of the year they are aestivating underground.  

This cycle is essential for their survival especially when a bushfire threatens their survival.

In the days following the February fire, Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) staff made a thorough search of the reserve and found one dehydrated tortoise that has since been revived and returned to the reserve. As the wet season begins DBCA staff expect to see other tortoises emerge from their safe refuges underground and return to the swamp.

Through stories, games and activities, workshop participants learned about the range of survival adaptions that have enabled the Western Swamp Tortoise to live in the restricted habitat for thousands of years.

More information about the Western Swamp Tortoise can be found in the latest ‘Tortoise Tales’ newsletter, available at https://westernswamptortoise.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Tortoise-Tales-32-2021.pdf  and website https://www.westernswamptortoise.com.au/



Ellenbrook Reserve after the fire. Photo: DBCA