Blog | Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA)
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Description The Turtle Survival Alliance is a global partnership of individuals, zoos, aquariums, biologists and researchers who have joined together to help conserve threatened and endangered tortoise and turtle species.
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Radiated Tortoise Press Release 2018
Category Blog
Published: Thu, 19 Apr 2018 11:16:20 +0000


For Immediate Release

April 18, 2018



Turtle Survival Alliance Launches Rescue Mission to Nearly 11,000 Critically Endangered Radiated Tortoises Discovered in Massive Poaching Bust

Animal experts from AZA-accredited Zoos and Aquariums Dispatched to Madagascar to Conduct the Rescue


On Tuesday, April 10, more than 10,000 critically endangered Radiated Tortoises (Astrochelys radiata) were discovered by local police in a non-descript private residence in Toliara, Madagascar. The floors of virtually every room in the house were covered with tortoises that had no access to food or water. As of Friday, April 13, hundreds had died from dehydration and illness. Experts from the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) and several zoos and aquariums have been dispatched with medical supplies, and will administer medical care for the sick or injured tortoises and general animal care.

It is not known how long the tortoises have been in the home, some arrests have been made, the local police in partnership with Directeur Regional de l'Environment, de 'Ecologie et des Forets (DREEF), the conservation law enforcement authorities in Madagascar, continue their investigation. It is believed that the tortoises were collected for the illegal pet trade, possibly for shipment to Asia where the tortoises' highly-domed shell featuring a brilliant star pattern makes them highly prized. It is estimated that Radiated Tortoise populations in the wild have declined more than 80 percent in the last 30 years. At this rate of decline, it is estimated that the Radiated Tortoise could be functionally extinct in the wild in less than two decades.

Currently, triage efforts are being led by a five-member team from the Turtle Survival Alliance's (TSA) Madagascar staff, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, and Villages des Tortues, who have been working non-stop after relocating the surviving tortoises 18 miles north at SOPTOM-Villages des Tortues, a 17-acre private wildlife facility in Ifaty. While there, each tortoise will receive initial in-processing, health evaluations, hydration and triage.

"I don't think the word overwhelming comes close to describing what the Turtle Survival Alliance is dealing with here," said Rick Hudson, President of the Turtle Survival Alliance. "We were already caring for 8,000 tortoises in Madagascar, now that number has more than doubled overnight."

Participating organizations accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) include Abilene Zoo, Bronx Zoo/Wildlife Conservation Society, Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Dallas Zoo, Dickerson Park Zoo, Georgia Aquarium, Fort Worth Zoo, New England Aquarium, Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden, San Diego Zoo Global, Shedd Aquarium, Tennessee Aquarium, Topeka Zoo and Conservation Center, Tulsa Zoo, Utah's Hogle Zoo, Zoo Knoxville, Zoo Atlanta. In addition to these AZA organizations, the TSA's efforts are being supported by global conservation partners Aktionsgemeinschaft Artenschutz (AGA) e. V., Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, ProWildlife v. E., SOPTOM-Village Des Tortues, Tanganyika Wildlife Park, and the Turtle & Tortoise Preservation Group and the Auckland Zoo in New Zealand plus a growing number of private donors.

"We are in 'an all hands on deck' mentality right now." said Hudson. "Fortunately, due to our strong relationship with the zoo community the TSA is well positioned to respond to crises such as this."

"The immediate response of more than 20 AZA-accredited facilities, offering their expertise and assistance to care for thousands of tortoises in Madagascar, is proof we will take whatever action is necessary to address illegal wildlife trade and other threats that put the world's most vulnerable species at risk of extinction." said AZA President and CEO Dan Ashe. "Through programs like SAFE: Saving Animals From Extinction and the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance, AZA and its members are engaging in critical, coordinated, and needed conservation work."

Given the scale of the rescue efforts, TSA expects to send additional teams of veterinary experts from the United States to Madagascar over the coming weeks and months.

"The support we continue to receive from the global conservation community has been incredible, and we are extremely thankful for the multitude of individuals and organizations that have come forward with donations and supplies." said Hudson. "Yet, the long-term financial impacts to our Madagascar program is potentially crippling."

Currently, the best way for the public to assist the TSA in their rescue efforts is to make a tax-deductible donation to the Turtle Survival Alliance Foundation, which can be made online at www.turtlesurvival.org/donate. Additionally, any zoological institution, private veterinary practice, husbandry technicians, or additional support personnel interested in assisting can contact Andrew Walde, Chief Operations Officer, directly at awalde@turtlesurvival.org.


About the Turtle Survival Alliance

MISSION: The Turtle Survival Alliance is transforming passion for turtles into effective conservation action through a global network of living collections and recovery programs. VISION: Zero turtle extinctions. To achieve our mission and vision, the Turtle Survival Alliance manages collaborative turtle conservation programs in 15 countries—critical to maintaining and restoring wild populations and preserving species through assurance colonies. Today, the TSA's programs positively impact the survival of 20 of the World's Top 25 Most Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles. Visit: www.turtlesurvival.org; http://www.facebook.com/TurtleSurvival; www.instagram.com/turtlesurvival. Follow: @turtlesurvival on Twitter.

About the Association of Zoos and Aquariums

Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, animal welfare, education, science, and recreation. AZA is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and eight other countries. Look for the AZA accreditation logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. The AZA is a leader in saving species and your link to helping animals all over the world. To learn more, visit www.aza.org.

Radiated Tortoise Seizure - Day 2
Category Blog
Published: Sat, 14 Apr 2018 17:01:25 +0000

Ifaty, Madagascar - Triage efforts are underway by our TSA-Madagascar staff and partners in the region for the nearly 10,000 Radiated Tortoises (Astrochelys radiata) seized from a single residence in Toliara on April 10th. All are being temporarily housed at "Villages de Tortues" in Ifaty while they receive initial in-processing, health evaluations, hydration, and triage. These processes have been extremely labor intensive and time-consuming, but our collective ground forces are doing an incredible job managing the thousands of tortoises — a task of monumental proportions!

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A juvenile Radiated Tortoise rests in the shade in Ifaty.

In the United States, Madagascar, and elsewhere abroad, our TSA staff and partners including Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Utah's Hogle Zoo, Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden, Wildlife Conservation Society, San Diego Zoo, Zoo Knoxville, Shedd Aquarium, Zoo Atlanta, Georgia Aquarium, Dr. Bonnie Raphael, and numerous private individuals have been mobilizing a team of veterinarians, veterinary technicians, husbandry technicians, communications specialists, and support staff to descend on Madagascar this coming week.

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Left: A juvenile Radiated Tortoise rests in the shade in Ifaty. Right: A fraction of the 10,976 tortoises confiscated on April 10, 2018.

Support from the global conservation community has been incredible, and we are extremely thankful for the multitude of individuals and organizations that have begun pouring in donations and supplies. The fight to save these tortoises will not be easy and will not be quick. We expect to send multiple teams to Madagascar over the coming weeks and months to assist in the effort. And we will continue to need your support! We humbly ask that you make a donation to save the lives of these beautiful, charismatic, and critically endangered tortoises.

Please DONATE TODAY to save these tortoises, and assist with the largest tortoise rescue effort in our history!

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Left: A young Radiated Tortoise recieves an I.D. number from Dr. Natacha Rasolondrazaka of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.  Right: A juvenile Radiated Tortoise awaits in-processing and examination.

 Additionally, if you are a zoological institution, private practice, husbandry technician, or additional support personnel interested in assisting, please contact Andrew Walde, Chief Operations Officer, directly at awalde@turtlesurvival.org.

Monumental Radiated Tortoise Seizure!
Category Blog
Published: Thu, 12 Apr 2018 20:18:39 +0000

Breaking News - Nearly 11,000 Radiated Tortoises Seized in Madagascar!

A confiscation of monumental proportions, and the largest for tortoises or freshwater turtles in the history of the Turtle Survival Alliance has occurred in Madagascar. On the night of April 10, 2018, TSA staff were alerted to a confiscation of 10,976 Radiated Tortoises (Astrochelys radiata) from a single residence in the city of Toliara on the southwestern coast of Madagascar. Three suspects have been apprehended in connection with the smuggling operation.

See the video of the raid on the house containing the tortoises at minute 12:03! 

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Left: Residence with 10,976 tortoises in Toliara. Right: Radiated Tortoises fill every room in the house.

The tortoises have been temporarily transferred to "Villages de Tortues," a secure facility in Ifaty where triage efforts are beginning. The TSA and our partners Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Utah's Hogle Zoo, Wildlife Conservation Society, and Zoo Knoxville are mobilizing forces now to assist in this effort; our TSA-Madagascar staff are already en-route to Ifaty. We will need to send additional veterinarians, veterinary technicians, husbandry technicians, support staff - all of which involves the purchase of airfare and immunizations prior to travel. We will also need to purchase and ship an incredible amount of supplies to help these tortoises survive!

Time is of the essence! Within the last two days, hundreds of tortoises have already died from dehydration, malnutrition, and illness. That number is sure to increase unless we act fast! As of today, 9,760 tortoises are alive, but need immediate help. Forces are mobilizing as we speak to save these critically endangered tortoises, but we need your help!!!

Please DONATE TODAY to save these tortoises, and assist with the largest tortoise rescue effort in our history!

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Left: Radiated Tortoises reside in filthy conditions within the house.. Right: The tortoises are loaded into a transport vehicle for Ifaty.


World's Rarest Turtle Discovered in Vietnam!
Category Blog
Published: Thu, 12 Apr 2018 03:43:38 +0000

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A photograph taken of the Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle in Xuan Khanh Lake in May 2017. This photo however did not constitute clear evidence until a DNA sample could verify the species. Photo by: Nguyen Van Trong - ATP/IMC

The Asian Turtle Program of Indo-Myanmar Conservation, Washington State University, and Turtle Survival Alliance are very excited to announce the confirmation of a Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) living in a lake outside of Hanoi, Vietnam! The now-confirmed specimen increases the global population of the world's rarest turtle, and unarguably one of the Earth's rarest animals, to four.

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Nguyen Van Trong of the ATP/IMC processes water samples by the lake to be analyzed at Washington State University using eDNA technology. Photo by: Nguyen Tai Thang – ATP/IMC

The turtle was first rumored to live in the Xuan Khanh Lake, west of Hanoi, in 2012. After several years of relentless search by our partners at the Asian Turtle Program, a photograph was captured by Nguyen Van Trong of a large softshell turtle residing in the lake in May 2017. The photograph however was not enough to confirm the specimen as Rafetus swinhoei. In 2017, the Turtle Survival Alliance partnered with the Asian Turtle Program and Washington State University to intensify the effort to confirm the existence of R. swinhoei in Xuan Khanh Lake through the use of environmental DNA (eDNA). The efforts paid off when Dr. Caren Goldberg of the Washington State University confirmed a clear positive result for R. swinhoei DNA, based upon her analysis of eDNA samples from Xuan Khanh Lake. Although the effort to capture this specimen and bring it together with the other last remaining animals will be immense, the confirmation of its existence significantly increases the chance of survival for the species. Of the three previously known specimens, only one other R. swinhoei is known to live in the wild, in Dong Mo Lake, Vietnam, while the other two specimens, a pair, reside at the Suzhou Zoo, Suzhou China.

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Nguyen Tai Thang surveys for Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtles around Xuan Khanh Lake, Vietnam. Photo by: Nguyen Van Trong - ATP

The success of this work has only been possible through the support of an international team and national authorities in Vietnam. The Biodiversity Conservation Agency (BCA) of the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment (MoNRE) and the Fisheries Department and Forest Protection Department (FPD) of Vietnam have both supported surveys and conservation efforts for R. swinhoei. The analysis of the eDNA was made possible by support from several institutions including the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Turtle Conservation Fund, International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, and British Chelonia Group, as well as numerous private donors.

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This Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle was found in Dong Mo Lake, Vietnam in 2008, and is the only other known wild specimen. Photo by: Timothy McCormack- ATP

As the world's rarest chelonian species, the survival of the Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle will only be possible through collaborating organizations and the people who define them making the firm commitment to "zero turtle extinctions." Their survival also needs YOU. We ask that you please DONATE TODAY to aid in the efforts to preserve the world's rarest turtle, Rafetus swinhoei.

DONATE HERE: www.turtlesurvival.org/donate


Photo credits: Nguyen Thai Thang and Nguyen Van Trong (ATP/IMC)


TSC End of Winter Update
Category Blog
Published: Thu, 08 Mar 2018 02:31:10 +0000

By Nathan Haislip

Winter time is usually a slower season at the Turtle Survival Center (TSC), and although many of our turtles at the TSC slow down or go completely into brumation, the staff does not. During this "off-season" where husbandry demands are lower, our staff focus on facility improvements and the building of new enclosures for the growing populations of endangered turtles and tortoises. Thanks in part to some kind donations, a variety of habitat improvements have been made over the last several months.

Our Home's (Kinixys homeana) and Forest (Kinixys erosa) Hinge-back Tortoises received enclosure updates including larger enclosures with false bottoms. These false bottoms allow humidity to remain high, while not resulting in saturated substrate. The Asian Spiny Turtle (Heosemys spinosa) winter holding area received an upgrade as well, allowing us to house females separately from males during the non-breeding season. This gives the females of this tropical species a much needed respite from a breeding season that is nearly every month of the year.

K. erosa enjoying leaf litter TSASpinosa habitat

Left: Forest Hinge-back Tortoise (Kinixys erosa). Credit: N. Haislip  Right: Asian Spiny Turtle (Heosemys spinosa). Credit: J. Gray

In the Hatchling Room, we implemented a recirculating aquatic system with an improved turnover rate for our hatchling Big-headed Turtles (Platysternon megacephalum). As a species that naturally inhabits clear, fast-moving, highly-oxygenated streams, water quality and movement is an important feature that helps simulate environmental factors of their natural habitat. To help achieve this, the water is both mechanically and biologically filtered through the utilization of plants and beneficial bacteria, while spray bars are used to increase oxygenation.

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Left: Hatchling Big-headed Turtle (Platysternon megacephalum). Credit: N. Haislip  Right: Big-headed Turtle recirculating system. Credit: J. Gray

 Over in the Sulawesi Greenhouse, our Sulawesi Forest Turtles (Leucocephalon yuwonoi) also received habitat improvements. Although housed in Waterland Tubs that feature a stair-like ramp, the animals have had some difficulty accessing the land portion in the past. After an initial pilot study, we determined that large rocks placed in the aquatic portion of the environments seemed to be the most favorable item for aiding access to the land portion. The aesthetically pleasing addition of the rocks has also reduced the chance of them flipping over while allowing us to provide the turtles with deeper water in their pools. Apart from alterations of their aquatic habitat, a large donation of square plant saucers permitted us to change the terrestrial hides for these animals. The plant saucers provide a low-profile hide that they seem to prefer. We are hoping these habitat changes will improve the animals' breeding and egg laying potential. Our staff plans to deliver an in-depth presentation about the Sulawesi Forest Turtle habitat modifications at the 16th Annual Symposium on the Conservation and Biology of Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles in Fort Worth, Texas.

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Left: Sulawesi Forest Turtle (Leucocephalon yuwonoi) habitats. Credit: J. Gray  Right: Female Sulawesi Forest Turtle rests beneath new hide tray. Credit: J. Gray

Outside, construction finished on the Cuora Complex II, bringing 90 more enclosures online for the 2018 breeding/egg-laying season. Construction on this initiative began in the fall of 2016, with the majority of the previous off-season's efforts focused on concrete work—the foundation and the most labor intensive portions of the project. Work this winter focused on enclosure dividers, walkways, plumbing, staining, and applying final touches to get the enclosures animal-ready. Many organizations such as the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Riverbanks Zoo, South Carolina Aquarium, and the U.S. Navy, along with numerous volunteers abroad, have contributed to this project and we are excited that it is on the cusp of completion. Cuora Complex II will predominately house and facilitate managed breeding of Bourret's (Cuora bourreti), Indochinese (Cuora galbinifrons), and Southern Vietnam Box Turtles (Cuora picturata), as well as some smaller aquatic turtle species such as Beale's (Sacalia bealei) and Four-eyed Turtles (Sacalia quadriocellata). This area will also serve well for separating and managing our growing population of juvenile turtles bred here. We are extremely grateful to the Barbara Brewster Bonner Charitable Fund for making the Cuora Complex II possible!

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Cuora Compex II provides 90 new enclosures for managed breeding of several species of Asian box turtles. Credit: J. Gray

Another large project for the TSC has been the initiation of our Phase II development. The TSC has experienced exponential growth in the past 4 years and we are nearing the completion of the initial phase of construction. In order to facilitate expansion for Phase II, we must install infrastructure and improve the land for later use. This consists of removing some of the forested land to make space for future buildings, elevating areas to prevent flooding during major climatic events, and installing facilities such as water lines, power lines, etc., that future buildings will tap into. Extensive planning is invested in this step, as it will affect the next decade of construction at the TSC.

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Land cleared for the Turtle Survival Center's Phase II expansion. Credit: N. Haislip

While improvements and additions to our facility are a high-priority during the winter months, the health and well-being of the turtles in the collection remains the highest. Although the climate of coastal South Carolina is mostly sub-tropical, we must take precautions every year to ensure the safety of our animals from cold winter temperatures. Animals that brumate during the winter months receive pre-winter health examinations, as well as routine checks during the season to ensure they're healthy. To assist us prior to the turtle's brumative period, local boy scout troop #776 volunteered to prepare the outdoor enclosures for the winter season. With their help, an extensive leaf litter layer was applied to all of the compounds this autumn to insulate the animals from the coming cold.

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An Indochinese Box Turtle (Cuora galbinifrons) peers out of the newly placed leaf litter. Credit: N. Haislip

As the rest of the East Coast experienced, we too got our fair share of cold temperatures this winter. A weather system known by meteorologists as "bombogenesis" brought snow, ice, and frigid temperatures to coastal South Carolina the first week of January—something rarely seen in our area. Anticipating the worst, staff took extra precautions such as adding more mulch and leaf litter to the outdoor enclosures, and constantly monitoring indoor and outdoor temperatures to ensure the animals were comfortable during this wintry blast. The TSC is equipped with sensors that notify staff if temperatures reach a certain threshold, giving us a small peace of mind during spells such as this. Generators were at the ready, but luckily, we only suffered a couple of burst water pipes.

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Snow covers the enclosures of the Forest Complex where various species of Southeast Asian species reside. Credit: N. Haislip

Although many of our animals are in brumation during the winter period, it is still a somewhat active breeding season for some of our indoor animals. We have several species that experience a winter breeding season or egg-laying season such as our Hinge-back Tortoises. We also prefer to breed our tropical species such as Forsten's Tortoises (Indotestudo forstenii) and Sulawesi Forest Turtles at this time, so as to spread out the egg-laying season as much as is in our control. This helps "lighten the load" of the comparatively intense reproductive seasons of spring and summer (April—July). Currently in the incubator, we have 5 clutches of Forsten's Tortoise eggs, 2 Asian Spiny Turtle eggs, 1 Southern Vietnam Box Turtle egg, and 3 Home's Hinge-back Tortoise eggs. We still have several Forsten's Tortoises, Southern Vietnam Box Turtles, another Home's Hinge-back Tortoise, and a Sulawesi Forest Turtle all with eggs on the way.

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Sulawesi Forest Turtles (Leucocephalon yuwonoi)  mate under supervised conditions in the Sulawesi Greenhouse. Credit: N. Haislip 

With consistently warm temperatures on the way, we will soon have our hands full of chelonian activity. Stay tuned for our spring update from the Turtle Survival Center!

TSA Programs make an Impact for 20 of the Top 25 Most Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles - 2018
Category Blog
Published: Wed, 07 Mar 2018 22:28:47 +0000

TSA Impacts 20 of the Top 25 MAP 2018

A newly released report by the TSA and fellow turtle conservation organizations, collectively known as the Turtle Conservation Coalition, entitled "Turtles in Trouble: The World's 25+ Most Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles – 2018" shows that tortoises and freshwater turtles are facing an almost unparalleled extinction crisis. This report indicates that over 50% of all known species of these animals face extinction risk, making them second only to non-human primates as the world's most threatened group of vertebrates.

With in situ range-country programs and assurance colonies across the globe, and captive-breeding programs at our flagship Turtle Survival Center in South Carolina, the TSA has positively impacted 20 of the Top 25 (and 39 of the Top 50) most endangered tortoises and freshwater turtles listed in the report.

These 20 species include: Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei), Ploughshare Tortoise (Astrochelys yniphora), Yunnan Box Turtle (Cuora yunnanensis), Northern River Terrapin (Batagur baska), Myanmar Roofed Turtle (Batagur trivittata), Zhou's Box Turtle (Cuora zhoui), McCord's Box Turtle (Cuora mccordi), Golden-headed Box Turtle (Cuora aurocapitata), Dahl's Toad-headed Turtle (Mesoclemmys dahli), Three-striped Box Turtle (Cuora trifasciata), Burmese Star Tortoise (Geochelone platynota), Rote Island Snake-necked Turtle (Chelodina mccordi), Southeast Asian Narrow-headed Softshell Turtle (Chitra chitra), Vietnamese Pond Turtle (Mauremys annamensis), Central American River Turtle (Dermatemys mawii), Southern River Terrapin (Batagur affinis), Red-crowned Roofed Turtle (Batagur kachuga), Sulawesi Forest Turtle (Leucocephalon yuwonoi), Hoge's Side-necked Turtle (Mesoclemmys hogei), and Palawan Forest Turtle (Siebenrockiella leytensis).

For a hard copy of the "TSA's Impact Map," secure your copy of the 2017 Turtle Survival magazine due out in days!

You can directly make an impact for the species listed in the report by becoming a TSA Member today!

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