Zoos SA is proud to mark National Threatened Species Day with the hatching of eight critically endangered Western Swamp Tortoises.
The now four-month old hatchlings are smaller than a 50 cent coin in size, weighing between 30 and 60 grams, but they represent a huge contribution to the future of the Western Swamp Tortoise in the wild.
Adelaide Zoo Reptile Keeper Shawn Scott says while the healthy arrival of these young animals is certainly something to celebrate, it is also an important reminder on the plight of one of Australia’s rarest reptile species.
“Sadly, the numbers of Western Swamp Tortoises in the wild are still extremely low as the species faces a number of threats to their habitats and predation from introduced animals,” Shawn says.
“These eight hatched earlier this year through Zoos SA’s involvement in the captive breeding program for the Western Swamp Tortoise.
“We are very proud to be working with Perth Zoo as one of only two institutions in the world breeding this special species.
“Zoos SA has so far successfully raised 24 Western Swamp Tortoises, with eleven of these returned to Perth Zoo for inclusion in the wild release program.
“We are determined to continue to grow an insurance population for this beautiful species to ensure they have a long future in the wild.”
Endemic to Western Australia, the critically-endangered reptile faces serious trouble in the wild.
For more than 100 years, it was thought the Western Swamp Tortoise had gone extinct until it was rediscovered in 1953.
By the 1980s, it was estimated there were less than 30 individuals left in the wild, while today the total population stands at just over 500 tortoises in the wild and in captivity.
Current Western Swamp Tortoise populations are found in two small swamp reserves in WA, but are facing habitat loss and predation from introduced species like foxes, cats, dogs and pigs.
Sadly, climate change has also added further pressure to the species, with declining winter and spring rainfall wreaking havoc on their critical swamp habitats.
Zoos SA works in partnership with Parks and Wildlife WA and Perth Zoo on the conservation program, which is working to ensure a genetically viable population of Western Swamp Tortoises are released back into the wild.
The first Western Swamp Tortoises arrived at Adelaide Zoo in early 2003, and to date, Zoos SA has successfully reared 24 hatchlings. Eleven of these individuals have since returned to Perth to be released into the wild.
Zoos SA currently houses 10 tortoises across Adelaide Zoo and Monarto Safari Park, three more adult individuals will be arriving from Perth this month.