Critically endangered tortoises released into Ellen Brook Nature Reserve for study

L-R: Jan Bant (Chair of Friends of the Western Swamp Tortoise) and Gerald Kuchling (Chief Investigative Scientist), with one of the young Western Swamp Tortoises at the Western Swamp Tortoise release in Ellen Brook, Bullsbrook. Picture: David Baylis
L-R: Jan Bant (Chair of Friends of the Western Swamp Tortoise) and Gerald Kuchling (Chief Investigative Scientist), with one of the young Western Swamp Tortoises at the Western Swamp Tortoise release in Ellen Brook, Bullsbrook. Picture: David Baylis

TWELVE western swamp tortoises have been released at the Ellen Brook Nature Reserve in a new trial to boost numbers of the critically endangered species.

The tortoises were released on Friday morning by scientists from the Department of Parks and Wildlife, staff from the Perth Zoo and members of the Friends of the Western Swamp Tortoise Group.

The tortoises, which have been fitted with a radio transmitter, will live at the Bullsbrook reserve for the next 12 months and have their movements studied.

Department of Parks and Wildlife senior research scientist Gerald Kuchling has been studying the species for more than 30 years and said the experimental release would provide comparative data.

He said the tortoises, which were bred at Perth Zoo, were released at the Ellen Brook because it was the best known habitat for the species in the world.

He said the tortoises in the reserve were now self-sustaining and breeding.

“It’s been very satisfying watching the tortoises over the past 30 years. When I first came to WA in 1987, they didn’t breed in captivity and the population was down to 13,” he said.

Dr Kuchling said the success of the breeding program had been a result of work from different groups.

Perth Zoo zookeeper Bradie Durell has spent 12 years working on the breeding program for the species.

He said it had been the most rewarding job raising the tortoises for release.

“It’s an amazing job; I am passionate about animals but to be involved in conservation as well is so rewarding and knowing you’re helping save animals from extinction,” he said.

“It’s bittersweet releasing them, but I am happy because this is where they are meant to be.”