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Blog | Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA)
  Updated Mon, 22 Oct 2018 01:11:24 +0000
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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Team Work Makes the Snapper Dream Work!
Category Blog
Published: Wed, 17 Oct 2018 18:21:16 +0000
Description:

This past weekend, our TSA-North American Freshwater Turtle Research Group (TSA-NAFTRG) performed their regular sampling for our long-term population monitoring and species distribution assessment for Western Alligator Snapping Turtles (Macrochelys temminckii) in southeast Texas, and boy, was it a doozy!

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Volunteer scientist Chris Drake displays a young 5 lb. (2 kg) specimen atop a gargantuan 132 lb. (60 kg) male snapper.

Joined by Dr. Day Ligon of Missouri State University and Dr. Denise Thompson, the team, led by Eric Munscher, captured, measured, weighed, took DNA samples, inserted unique identification tags, and released an astounding 19 alligator snappers over a two-day period. This included a 132 lb. (60 kg) leviathan; the largest male snapper that we have captured in Texas over our two years of monitoring! The 19 turtles represented a mix of male, female, and juvenile specimens; a demonstration of reproductive success and survivorship for this once overtly exploited turtle.

At a recent workshop to address the status and conservation of the Alligator Snapping Turtle in Texas, the species was elevated to the state ranking of S2 (Imperiled), making our research into the distribution and ecology of this iconic State Threatened species all the more important. And you can help!

Eric Day Denise Snapper

Eric Munscher, Dr. Day Ligon, and Dr. Denise Thompson with a male snapper prior to its release.

This research is performed by volunteer research scientists, TSA staff, is supported and permitted by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) and municipal parkland authorities, and is generously aided by the TPWD Conservation License Plate Grants program. If you are a Texas resident, please consider aiding our research and conservation of Alligator Snapping Turtles by switching to a Texas conservation license plate on your vehicle AND becoming a TSA member today!

Together we can make the conservation dream work for the magnificent Alligator Snapping Turtle!

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The Hicatee Turtle - Belize's National Treasure
Category Blog
Published: Tue, 02 Oct 2018 15:05:18 +0000
Description:

Hicatee Awareness Month Banner 2

Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education (BFREE), Turtle Survival Alliance, and partners are once again observing October as Hicatee Awareness Month. Throughout the month, activities and events will celebrate the beloved Central American River Turtle (Dermatemys mawii) – locally known as the Hicatee. This year's message encourages national pride of this rare and unique species by establishing the Hicatee as the national reptile of Belize.

The Hicatee turtle is the only living species in an ancient family dating back 65 million years. It is so resilient that it outlived the dinosaurs. Once widespread, the Hicatee is now critically endangered due to overhunting and in desperate need of greater protection and innovative conservation actions.

As stated in the Belize 2016-2020 National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP), "Belize harbours a total of 118 globally threatened species (9 critically endangered, 32 endangered and 77 Vulnerable) and a further 62 near threatened / of least concern (IUCN, 2016). Of these, the critically endangered Central American river turtle ("hicatee") is considered at highest risk of local extinction."

The Hicatee's main predator is man. In effect, this turtle is being eaten to extinction across its limited range. Although, it is believed that the Hicatee still exists in very small populations in northern Guatemala and southern Mexico, its stronghold is in Belize. Therefore, the future of the species is up to the choices we make as individuals and as a country.

Hicatee Awareness Month Banner 3

As the country's national reptile, the Hicatee's public status would be elevated and the stage would be set for national pride of this rare and unique species. Just as the Tapir and Toucan are revered and protected due to their status as the national animal and national bird, the Hicatee would be revered and protected if recognized as the national reptile.

To prepare educators for Hicatee Awareness Month, BFREE distributed educational packets to 100 preschools and primary schools in Cayo and Belize Districts – areas in which Hicatee have historically been found. Packets included classroom resources like activity pages and fact sheets about the Hicatee and other valuable and endangered wildlife found in Belize. "Herbert the Hickatee," a book written by Ms. Gianni Martinez, teacher at St. Mary's School in Belize City, is featured in the packets. Also included is a national competition for students to design the 2019 Hicatee Awareness Month poster.

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All packet materials are available online for download at www.bfreebz.org. Special additions to the online packet include a poem for kids "I am a Hicatee Hero," by Mr. Jaren Serano, alumnus of Sacred Heart Junior College in Cayo, and the 1 ½ minute video trailer for "Hope for Belize's Hicatee: Central American River Turtle," created by wildlife filmmakers, Richard and Carol Foster, of Belmopan.

With the second Hicatee Awareness Month, we are encouraging our Belizean and global partners to unite to help save this species from extinction. By making this our national reptile, future generations and leaders will recognize the important cultural and historic value of the Hicatee turtle - Belize's National Treasure.

The hicatee is disappearing, but together we can save it.

###

PRESS RELEASE of the
Belize Foundation for Research & Environmental Education (BFREE) www.bfreebz.org
Contact: Heather Barrett, hbarrett@bfreebz.org

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Burmese Narrow-headed Softshell Turtles Hatch in Myanmar
Category Blog
Published: Mon, 01 Oct 2018 20:14:36 +0000
Description:

Yangon, Myanmar—TSA-Myanmar Director Kalyar Platt has announced the hatching of 67 Burmese Narrow-headed Softshell Turtles (Chitra vandijki) in Myanmar! A critically endangered species, the Burmese Narrow-headed Softshell is endemic to the Ayeyarwady and Chindwin River drainages of the country. 

Tub of Chitra vandijki

A tub containing the future of the critically endangered Burmese Narrow-headed Softshell Turtle sits at the Linpha Village field station.

On July 23rd, staff members of the TSA and Wildlife Conservation Society's (WCS) turtle conservation program in Myanmar excavated the nests of female Burmese Narrow-headed Softshell Turtles on the banks of the upper Chindwin River in northwestern Myanmar. The eggs were translocated to makeshift nests in the protected hatchery at the TSA/WCS Linpha Village field station for incubation. Here, the turtle conservation program also incubates translocated eggs of the critically endangered Burmese Roofed Turtle (Batagur trivittata), a sympatric riverine species. On Sunday, September 30th, after a 69-day incubation period, the 67 peculiar-looking turtles hatched, presenting a new opportunity for this enigmatic species.

Staff with Chitra vandijki

Tun Zaw displays a handfull of hatchling Burmese Narrow-headed Softshell Turtles.

Ranked in the Top 50 most-endangered taxa of turtles and tortoises in the world, the Burmese Narrow-headed Softshell Turtle population has suffered due to widespread overharvesting for the food markets of southern China. One of the largest freshwater turtles on earth, with carapace lengths up to 1 meter, the sheer bulk of this species makes it sought-after for its meat. Now, with an unknown number proverbially treading water in the turbid Ayeyarwady and Chindwin Rivers, nest translocation and protection activities may provide the only hope this poorly understood species has for survival.

To aid in saving the Burmese Narrow-headed Softshell Turtle from extinction please consider DONATING TODAY!

Chitra vandijki hatchling

A hatchling Burmese Narrow-headed Softshell Turtle exhibits its peculiar appearance.

 

 

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Where Have All the Turtles Gone, and Why Does It Matter?
Category Blog
Published: Tue, 18 Sep 2018 01:16:31 +0000
Description:

TSA Logo CURRENT 2018 JPG

For Immediate Release

September 19, 2018

 

TURTLE BIOLOGISTS OUTLINE ECOLOGICAL REPERCUSSIONS OF A WORLD WITHOUT TURTLES

Charleston, South Carolina – Daudin's Giant Tortoise. Floreana Giant Tortoise. Viesca Mud Turtle. Pinta Giant Tortoise. Reunion Giant Tortoise. In just the last 200 years, these five species of chelonian have disappeared from the Earth forever—and an unparalleled number of others are on the brink of following suit. Of the 478 recognized modern-day species and subspecies of turtle and tortoise, approximately 61% are threatened with or have already become extinct, making them the most endangered order of vertebrates. But, what does the loss of these animals which have inhabited the earth for over 200 million years mean for global ecology and the environments in which they reside?

In a new publication in BioScience entitled “Where Have All the Turtles Gone, and Why Does It Matter?” turtle biologists Dr. Jeffrey Lovich (U.S. Geological Survey), Dr. Whit Gibbons (University of Georgia), Dr. Joshua Ennen (Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute), and Mickey Agha (University of California-Davis) address these questions by synthesizing existing knowledge of the ecological role of chelonians and demonstrating quantitative and qualitative environmental impacts of large-scale population reduction and species loss.

“We are only beginning to understand the ecological value of turtles to the ecosystems we share with them. Given the rapid decline of many turtle populations, and the extinction of some species, we are racing against time to learn more about their place in the intricate machinery of nature," states co-author Dr. Jeffrey Lovich.

TSA President Rick Hudson adds: “This is an important and highly useful paper in that it summarizes the information we need to answer that oft-asked question ‘what good are turtles and why should we protect them?’ For all of us working to conserve turtles this paper is much needed and long-overdue.”

READ THE FULL PAPER HERE.

To MAKE A DONATION supporting the TSA's commitment to "zero turtle extinctions" CLICK HERE!

 

TSA (Turtle Survival Alliance)

Turtle Survival Alliance is a non-profit corporation with 501(c)(3) status. Since its formation in 2001, TSA has become recognized as a global force for turtle conservation, capable of taking swift and decisive action on behalf of critically endangered tortoises and freshwater turtles. With its commitment to "zero turtle extinctions," TSA transforms passion for turtles into effective conservation action through: (1) restoring populations in the wild where possible; (2) securing endangered species in captivity through assurance colonies; and (3) building the capacity to restore, secure, and conserve species within their range countries. In addition to the Turtle Survival Center in South Carolina, TSA manages collaborative turtle conservation programs in 15 diversity hotspots around the world. For more information, visit: www.turtlesurvival.org; http://www.facebook.com/TurtleSurvival; www.instagram.com/turtlesurvival@turtlesurvival on Twitter.


# # #

For more information, please contact Jordan Gray, Communications and Outreach Coordinator, at (912) 659-0978 or by email at jgray@turtlesurvival.org.

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2018 Symposium Recap
Category Blog
Published: Mon, 27 Aug 2018 22:56:36 +0000
Description:

Turtles. Texas. The former is arguably the most popular group of reptiles. The latter, well you know—"Everything is bigger in Texas." And so it was that from Sunday, August 12th to Wednesday, August 15th, over 270 die-hard "turtle nerds" from around the world descended on Fort Worth, Texas for the 16th Annual Symposium on the Conservation and Biology of Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles.

Newsletter Photo 1

Attendees listen to Camila Ferrara (WCS-Brazil) deliver her Special Presentation on Turtle Sound Communication. Photo: Zachary Walde

Hosted by the IUCN-Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group and the Turtle Survival Alliance, and once again generously supported by our title sponsor Zoo Med Laboratories, the annual symposium is widely regarded as THE international gathering for the dissemination of chelonian information. This year's symposium did not disappoint, featuring an impressive 96 oral presentations, 24 posters, 2 keynote addresses, 2 special features, and open discussions. Presentations and posters represented a diverse array of author backgrounds, countries, and topics including: Populations/Status, Asian Chelonians, Conservation, Field Studies/Techniques, Conservation & Policy in North America, the genus Graptemys, Headstarting, Genetics, Captive Husbandry, Zoos & Chelonians, Chelonian Communication, and Social Media Outreach.

Newsletter Photo 2

Attendees of the pre-conference field trip to the Trinity River process turtles captured for the Trinity River Turtle Survey. Photo: Ellie Campbell

The symposium unofficially kicked off with a field trip to the Trinity River led by TSA-North American Freshwater Turtle Research Group and Paschal High School's award-winning science teacher Andrew Brinker. Here, attendees had the opportunity to capture, process, and learn about the numerous species of chelonia that call the Trinity River home, while learning about Andrew's research project in the vicinity. That night, the symposium was officially kicked off with an ice breaker event hosted by the Hilton Fort Worth, the conference hotel. This night of schmoozing was followed the next morning by the annual opening address from TSA President Rick Hudson, and an introduction to and welcoming address from the TSA's new Executive Director, Richard M. Hills.

Newsletter Photo 3

George Heinrich (Florida Turtle Conservation Trust) delivers his keynote address on "The Big Turtle Year." Photo: Zachary Walde

For the next three days, attendees were saturated with the sharing of chelonian knowledge. On Day 1 attendees heard a wrap up on the big Madagascar confiscation by three of the primary players in that crisis, followed by a presentation from Joe Ventura (USFWS) on the increasing illegal trade in protected North American turtles, and the creative ways smugglers are using to circumvent detection. We featured two keynote addresses this year, the first by George Heinrich of the Florida Turtle Conservation Trust (The Big Turtle Year) and David Steen of the Alongside Wildlife Foundation (Using the Internet to Communicate Science), and as is tradition, we heard presentations highlighting the TSA's global field programs. As expected, Carl Franklin (University of Texas at Arlington) gave a rousing talk regarding the "State of Texas Turtles," which set the stage for an excellent session on Texas Turtles. Ninety-one oral presentations later, the final talks representing the year's Special Presentations were delivered by Camila Ferrara of the Wildlife Conservation Society – Brazil and Jeffrey Lovich of the U.S. Geological Survey. Following the Special Presentations, attendees boarded charter buses on the final evening of the symposium and were whisked off to the Fort Worth Zoo, where the TSA began!

Newsletter Photo 4

Tint Lwin, Mimeme Soe, and Kalyar Platt (TSA/WCS-Myanmar) enjoy the cocktail reception at the MOLA. Photo: Jordan Gray

At the zoo, a cocktail reception was hosted in their award-winning Museum of Living Art (MOLA), a world-class herpetological exhibition, where guests were also given the opportunity to peruse the habitats and holding areas in an open access behind-the-scenes tour. Following the reception, the hundreds of attendees congregated under a spacious outdoor tent at the zoo's new African Savanna for the annual banquet and presentation of awards. Presenting the first awards of the night was Rick Hudson who honored wildlife veterinarian Bonnie Raphael and TSA-Madagascar's veterinarian Ny Aina Tiana Rakotoarisoa with the Turtle Conservation Appreciation Award for their unfaltering efforts with this year's multi-institutional response effort for the nearly 10,000 Radiated Tortoises confiscated in Madagascar. Following these awards was the announcement of the recipients for the Turtle Conservation Fund's annual grant awards by Hugh Quinn. Bearing fruitful news that our chelonian conservation community continues to see quality recruitment into "our population," the number of students making up the ranks of the attendees continues to grow. This was evidenced by 31 student presentations representing 18 oral presentations and 13 posters. On behalf of the Chelonian Research Foundation in recognition of their accomplishments, Anders Rhodin awarded best poster to Carolina Starling-Manne for her work with Yellow-footed Tortoises in Brazil, best oral paper runner-up to Anuja Mital for her work along the Ganges River in India, and best oral paper to Michael Knoerr for his work with Bog Turtles in the Southern Appalachians. The banquet and awards were concluded by the presentation of the annual Behler Turtle Conservation Award, regarded as the "Nobel Prize" of the chelonian conservation community, to Russell Mittermeier of Global Wildlife Conservation for his life-long work on behalf of chelonians across the globe.

Newsletter Photo 5

Rick Hudson (TSA) presents Dr. Ny Aina Tiana Rakotoarisoa (TSA) with the Turtle Conservation Appreciation Award. Photo: D. Hedrick

For the 60+ attendees who found 4 days and three nights to not be quite enough, the Dallas World Aquarium and Dallas Zoo graciously hosted this year's post-conference field trip, which included chartered buses, tours of the world-class facilities, and behind-the-scenes looks at their herpetological facilities. It was sunny and hot, but a day enjoyed by all who wanted to spend a little more time in Texas.

Newsletter Photo 6

Attendees mix and mingle at the "hospitality suite" held in the Hilton Fort Worth's Presidential Suite. Photo: Zachary Walde

In all, this was a highly successful conference that again displayed the strength and commitment to global chelonian conservation. The Annual Symposium not only provides a chance for conservationists, hobbyists, breeders, researchers, academics, and educators a venue for information dissemination, but a chance to "recharge," see old friends, and make new. The TSA and IUCN-TFTSG would like to thank all of those who attended and participated in this year's symposium and we can't wait to gather once again next year in Tucson!

The TSA and IUCN-TFTSG would like to thank the following organizations and individuals for their conference sponsorship and additional support: Zoo Med Laboratories, Turtle Conservancy, Chelonian Research Foundation, Advanced Telemetry Systems, Fort Worth Zoo, Desert Tortoise Council, The Surprise Spring Foundation, Dallas World Aquarium, Dallas Zoo, Kristin Berry, Andrew Brinker, John Iverson, Matt and Leigh Ann Frankel, Anders Rhodin, David Shapiro, Brett and Nancy Stearns, Reid Tayler, Tim Gregory, and Zachary Walde.

Support for the 2018 Behler Turtle Conservation award was provided by: Global Wildlife Conservation, Wildlife Conservation Society, IUCN-TFTSG, Turtle Survival Alliance, Turtle Conservancy, Turtle Conservation Fund, Andrew Sabin Family Foundation, The Surprise Spring Foundation, Chelonian Research Foundation, Deb Behler, George Meyer and Maria Semple, and Brett and Nancy Stearns.

We would like to thank the Conference Planning Committee of Andrew Walde, Cristina Jones, Rick Hudson, Jan Holloway, Jordan Gray, and Janet Fincannon.

Special thanks goes to the Hilton Fort Worth for accommodating the symposium, and to the Hilton Fort Worth, Hampton Inn & Suites, and Embassy Suites for accommodating conference attendees.

Last, but certainly not least, we would like to thank the TSA volunteer dynamic duo of Nancy Reinert and Rose Tremblay for helping to foster a sense of community and facilitate interactions and conversation in our "hospitality suite," which was hosted in the hotel's Presidential Suite. Considered hallowed ground by many, the Presidential Suite at the Hilton Fort Worth afforded all who entered a "moment in time, a place in history" as this hotel was the final nightly residence of President John F. Kennedy in the hours prior to his assassination in Dallas the following morning.

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Behler Turtle Conservation Award 2018
Category Blog
Published: Thu, 23 Aug 2018 16:32:06 +0000
Description:

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This year the 13th annual Behler Turtle Conservation Award celebrates and honors Russell A. Mittermeier for his half-century of dedication to science and conservation of turtles and primates, as well as being a world-leading global conservationist of the highest caliber. Russ has been a hard-core herpetologist since childhood, with a particular interest in turtles, snakes, and crocodilians. As an undergraduate at Dartmouth (where he and Anders met and formed a life-long friendship) and at graduate school at Harvard, he pursued work on turtles and primates and carried out field work in Panama, Tanzania, Peru, Colombia, Brazil, and Suriname. The work in Brazil led to a number of publications on Amazonian turtles, the most notable of which was the redescription of the Red-headed Amazon Sideneck Turtle (Podocnemis erythrocephala).

In 1989, Russ became President of Conservation International, a position that he held for 25 years, switching to Executive Vice-Chair in 2014. At CI, he was the key figure in adapting Norman Myers' Biodiversity Hotspots concept as a core strategy for that organization for the next two decades, with hugely successful fundraising results. From Myers' original 10 hotspots, and then later 18, Russ and colleagues carried out research that eventually increased the number to 36. Russ also created the concepts of Megadiversity Countries and High Biodiversity Wilderness Areas as additional strategies for priority-setting, and also worked with several colleagues to adapt these and the Hotspots for turtle priority-setting as well. In addition, Russ has had a long history with IUCN. He has served as Chair of the IUCN Primate Specialist Group since 1977, and in 1979 began a process with Ed Moll and Peter Pritchard that resulted in the creation of the IUCN Freshwater Chelonian Specialist Group in 1981. He served as that new group's first Vice Chair under Ed Moll and has been on the Executive Committee of the combined IUCN Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group ever since, as well as a long-time and current Board member of Turtle Survival Alliance, Turtle Conservancy, Turtle Conservation Fund, and Chelonian Research Foundation. He was also present at the creation of the TSA in Fort Worth back in 2001. Other IUCN positions include the Steering Committee of the Species Survival Commission since 1982 and the IUCN Council from 2004 to 2012, and he was an IUCN Vice-President from 2008-2012. In December, 2017, Russ moved to Global Wildlife Conservation to work with Wes Sechrest and Don Church, and is currently that organization's Chief Conservation Officer. His work there, as it has for the past 50 years, focuses heavily on tropical forests and primates, with a strong side interest in turtles, working with last year's Behler Award winner Peter Paul van Dijk, now at GWC as well.

Although he has been involved in the creation of many different funding mechanisms for biodiversity conservation and is a regular participant in conferences on subjects as diverse as climate change, biodiversity, protected areas, and of course primates and turtles, he is happiest when out exploring yet another rain forest, or searching for a rare primate or turtle or some other flagship species on his bucket list, or adding yet another country to his Travelology List, currently at 169 countries. Indeed, based on a bird-watching model, he created the concept of Primate-Watching and Life-Listing to stimulate global interest in these animals, and is in the process of trying to do the same for Turtle-Watching. He has almost certainly been to more rain forests than anyone else and seen over 90 species of turtles in the wild.

Russ is especially proud of his work in discovering and describing species new to science. He has been involved in the description of 20 new species (3 turtles and 17 primates), has had 8 named after him (two lemurs, one saki monkey, three frogs, a lizard, and an ant – but no turtles yet), and has collected several named by other people. His work has been recognized by many different organizations, universities, and countries. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, has two honorary doctorates, one from Stony Brook and one from Eckerd College in Florida, was named a "Hero for the Planet" by Time magazine in 1998 (an honor shared by previous Behler Award winner Peter Pritchard), and has received nearly two dozen awards, including the Gold Medal of the San Diego Zoological Society (1987), the Order of the Golden Ark from Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands (1995), the National Order of the Southern Cross from the President of Brazil (1997), the Grand Sash and Order of the Yellow Star (1998) from the President of Suriname, the Sir Peter Scott Award for Conservation Merit from the SSC (2006), and the Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Centennial Medal (2017). In September, he will also receive the prestigious Indianapolis Prize for his leadership in global conservation efforts. Last but not least, Russ has for a long time been a trusted friend, mentor, facilitator, and partnership builder for many in the turtle and global research and conservation communities.

The TFTSG and TSA are honored to be joined again this year by the Turtle Conservancy and the Turtle Conservation Fund as co-presenters of the prestigious Behler Turtle Conservation Award, bringing together the four turtle organizations most closely tied to John Behler's legacy. This award would not be possible without the following group of dedicated and generous co-sponsors: Global Wildlife Conservation, Turtle Conservancy, IUCN Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group, Chelonian Research Foundation, Wildlife Conservation Society, Turtle Conservation Fund, Surprise Spring Foundation, Turtle Survival Alliance, Andrew Sabin Family Foundation, George Meyer and Maria Semple, Brett and Nancy Stearns, and Deb Behler.

Congratulations Russ, old friend—extremely well deserved!

Anders G.J. Rhodin and Rick Hudson,

Co-Chairs, Behler Turtle Conservation Award Committee

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Faces of the TSA Vol. 16
Category Blog
Published: Wed, 08 Aug 2018 12:51:26 +0000
Description:

Andrew Brinker and Son

Who: Andrew Brinker

What: Science Teacher, Paschal High School

Where: Fort Worth, Texas, USA



Jordan Gray: What is your earliest childhood memory with a turtle or tortoise?

Andrew Brinker: I grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan near a nature center with a pond for where I spent countless days at during the late 1980's and 90's. In the third grade I began finding hatchling Midland Painted Turtles (Chrysemys picta marginata) with brilliant yellow lines and red marginal scutes there. Soon thereafter I discovered hatchling Common Snapping Turtles (Chelydra serpentina) with their dinosaur like features. Eventually, I began to stalk the turtles that were basking on logs and then charge into the water with a fishing net in hopes of scooping one up. Not only was it fun, but it amazed my classmates at the nearby elementary school. Although I did keep a few turtles, I always returned them to the pond.


JG: How did you first become involved in turtle and tortoise conservation?

AB: I earned a Bachelor's Degree in Zoology from Michigan State University, where I had the good fortune of taking herpetology under Jim Harding. I still recall the hatchlings he brought to the lab and of finding an Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina) during a field trip on campus. As an undergraduate, I had ambitions of working at a zoo after college, and was granted an internship at Zoo Atlanta with mentors Mike Fost and Sue Barnard, two herpetologists full of integrity and knowledge. Due to a staffing shortage I was given my own section of amphibians and reptiles, which was heavy in turtles. I worked with Aldabra Tortoises (Aldabrachelys gigantea), Radiated Tortoises (Astrochelys radiata), and the incredible Barbour's Map Turtle (Graptemys barbouri) to name a few — it was heaven.

After graduating from Michigan State, I landed a zookeeper position in the prestigious herpetarium at the Fort Worth Zoo, Ft. Worth, Texas. Again, I was surrounded with an incredible group of mentors that became lifelong friends, including former curators David Blody, Clay Garrett, and Rick Hudson. I began working at the zoo in 2001, the same year that the TSA was formed in Fort Worth. While at the zoo I cared for nearly all the turtles at one point or another, but most fondly remember successfully reproducing Hamilton's Pond Turtles (Geoclemys hamiltonii) and Vietnamese Pond Turtle (Mauremys annamensis) — both a first for the zoo.

While working at the zoo I was able to earn my Master's degree at Texas Christian University under Gary Ferguson. The following summer I decided to change careers, and began teaching high school. With summers off, I have been able to volunteer with University of Texas - Arlington turtle nerd Carl Franklin in the crystal clear San Saba River, and more recently with the TSA's North American Freshwater Turtle Research Group at Comal Springs and Bull Creek, Texas. After learning the ins and outs of turtling, I decided to begin a mark recapture survey in the Trinity River that runs through downtown Fort Worth. It is surprisingly diverse, with seven species captured to date. I take students out at least once a month to set traps and process turtles.


JG: What is your favorite species of turtle or tortoise to work with?

AB: I am most excited when I manage to capture an elusive map turtle, and the Texas Map Turtle (Graptemys versa) is my favorite. I love the ghost white eyes, spectacular colors, and their natural history. The sexual dimorphism expressed allows each sex to occupy a different ecological niche; the tiny males with their narrow heads and the behemoth females with crushing jaws. At home I currently keep a single Common Musk Turtle (Sternotherus odoratus), whose name is Blody.
 


JG: What is your favorite aspect of being a high school science teacher?

AB: I have the pleasure of facilitating the growth of children into young adults that care about conservation. I am able to offer new ideas and concepts that give them an appreciation for natural history and wildlife. Before half the class falls asleep as I explain the intricacies of the Krebs cycle, I show them videos and photos of turtles, insects, birds, snakes, frogs etc., that I recently found, and discuss their natural histories. The summers off also provide a ton of time for turtling!


JG: Tell us about how you began the Trinity River Turtle Survey?

AB: While volunteering with the TSA's North American Freshwater Research Group I was amazed to see the citizen science component. After letting the experience stew for a few months I realized this would be the perfect way to get students involved with meaningful research outside of the classroom. I applied for a grant through the Andrews Institute of Mathematics and Science in the College of Education at Texas Christian University. The grant provided enough funding to purchase four traps, a PIT tag reader, calipers, and PIT tags. I also secured appropriate scientific research permits from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Division.

We began studying the turtle community of the Trinity River in October 2017. In less than a year, we have marked more than 500 turtles, and recaptured 100 of them. The success of the project is not measured in the amount of turtles or data, it is about providing students with an opportunity to participate in science. Four students are coauthors with TCU colleagues on two posters at the TSA – IUCN-TFTSG Annual Symposium this month. The first poster discusses mercury concentration in turtles using toenail clippings, and the second poster discusses the diatom community found on the carapace of the turtles we've trapped. Not too shabby for high school students!


JG: What attracted you to become part of the Turtle Survival Alliance?

AB: The recent Radiated Tortoise confiscation relief effort is a great example of why I believe in the TSA. "Boots on the ground" feeding, watering, and providing medical assistance saved thousands of tortoise lives! What I like most about the TSA as a whole is their exemplary management of different programs and facilities throughout the world performing in situ conservation. The TSA has also allowed me to connect with a great group of turtle biologists that have similar views on conservation and turtles.


JG: What advice would you give to an aspiring chelonian conservationist?

AB: There are probably turtles close to your home—go start watching them and their environments. Read the chelonian natural history notes in Herpetological Review, which is free online. Volunteer with your local zoo or museum and join local herpetological societies!

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