The Turtle Survival Alliance partnered with Rainforest Trust and the Wildlife Conservation Society to secure 120 hectares (296 acres) of land to protect a population of the critically endangered Dahl’s Toad-headed Turtle (Mesoclemmys dahli) and develop a genetic rescue program to mitigate the effects of habitat loss.

Charleston, South Carolina ‚Äì The tropical dry forest of northern Colombia is one of the most degraded and transformed ecosystems in the country with less than 9% remaining intact. The rest has been converted to cattle pastures, crops, and infrastructure, significantly affecting the ecosystem‚Äôs flora and fauna. A victim of this process is the Dahl¬¥s Toad-headed Turtle, endemic to northern Colombia and the only species from the family Chelidae to occur west of the Andes.  Recent studies by TSA and WCS teams demonstrate that populations of this semi-aquatic species are highly isolated due to habitat fragmentation. This isolation has resulted in high levels of inbreeding across the species‚Äô range, with all individuals sampled in a two-year study found to be closely related. Genetic exchange between populations is almost non-existent. Now, the survival of the species rests with what little remains of these insular habitat pockets.

To secure a future for the Dahl’s Toad-headed Turtle, the TSA partnered with Rainforest Trust and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), searching for a land parcel to establish the first-ever reserve for the species. For two years, the team investigated potential sites across the species’ geographic range, evaluating their suitability to serve as a reserve. On Tuesday, December 17, 2019, the team formally signed documents acquiring a 120-hectare (296 acre) parcel in San Benito Abad, Sucre, Colombia. The reserve will be managed by WCS, TSA, and the Rainforest Trust.

“This reserve gives this little turtle a real fighting chance for survival and gives managers an opportunity to restore a genetically healthy and thriving wild population. The situation was pretty dire–I think we got here just in the nick of time.” – Rick Hudson, President, TSA

To optimize the newly acquired land for Dahl’s Toad-headed Turtle, the reserve will undergo a process of habitat restoration, including wetland expansion and improvement, increasing available turtle habitat. Additionally, to mitigate the inbreeding processes, we will soon begin translocation efforts, moving individuals from highly isolated populations to the reserve. This influx of new bloodlines will increase the long-term genetic viability of the reserve’s population.

“This species is only found in northern Colombia. Its habitat has been degraded across all of its range, and it’s not found within any protected area. Thus, this new reserve will provide a unique opportunity to ensure the long-term persistence of the species…Taking advantage of the fact that turtles, due to their size and weight, can move intentionally from one place to another with more ease, by bringing groups of them to the reserve, we will be able to introduce new genes and increase diversity." – Germán Forero-Medina, Science and Species Director, WCS Colombia

The land acquisition, coupled with forthcoming habitat and genetic management will make the reserve the most important tool for securing a future for this unique endemic in the tropical dry forest of Colombia.

About 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:;;; @turtlesurvival on Twitter.

To MAKE A DONATION supporting the TSA’s commitment to Zero Turtle Extinctions CLICK HERE!

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