Disney Conservation Fund Grants Support Collaborative Conservation Initiatives

January 10, 2022

For Immediate Release

CONTACT: Jordan Gray, Turtle Survival Alliance, +1 (912) 659-0978, jgray@turtlesurvival.org

Charleston, South Carolina—Turtle Survival Alliance is proud to announce the award of Disney Conservation Fund grants to support our collaborative conservation initiatives for Critically Endangered turtle species in Belize and India. These funds will help sustain focused conservation actions for the Central American River Turtle (Dermatemys mawii) in Belize and Black Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia nigricans) in India.

"Bringing back turtle and tortoise species from the brink of extinction is no small endeavor. Turtle Survival Alliance and our partners around the world are up to this task. To do so takes significant financial investment. Disney Conservation has time and time again demonstrated that we are in this fight together. This year's awarding of Disney Conservation Fund grants to bolster Turtle Survival Alliance's conservation initiatives for critically endangered turtles again exemplifies this commitment," said Andrew Walde, Director of Conservation & Science, Turtle Survival Alliance.

This year, the Disney Conservation Fund (DCF) is supporting more than 40 nonprofit organizations working with communities across 25 countries to protect more than 60 species through its Inspiring Action Conservation Grants Program. Projects were selected through a rigorous review process focused on supporting conservation organizations to study wildlife, protect habitats and develop community conservation and education programs in critical ecosystems around the world. This work is part of Disney Planet Possible – tangible actions the Company is taking to support a healthier planet for people and wildlife around the globe.

“The work involved in preventing the extinction of the Central American River Turtle is both complex and challenging. Being the only surviving member of an ancient family of turtles dating back 65 million years, if this species is lost, an entire lineage of turtles is gone forever. But with the support of the Disney Conservation Fund, and the actions supported through this grant to advance a newly drafted National Conservation Strategy for the species, there is real hope for its survival into the future,” said Jacob Marlin, Executive Director, Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education.

 Thomas Pop (left) and Jaren Serano release juvenile Central American River Turtles (Dermatemys mawii) into a rearing pond at the Hicatee Conservation & Research Center. Photo: Heather Barrett

Thomas Pop (left) and Jaren Serano release juvenile Central American River Turtles (Dermatemys mawii) into a rearing pond at the Hicatee Conservation & Research Center. Photo: Heather Barrett

The 2022 Disney Conservation Fund grant award will allow Turtle Survival Alliance and our partners in Belize the support to enhance our collaborative efforts to protect and restore populations of the Central American River Turtle in Belize. We will achieve our conservation objectives through building a network of community-based protected areas, protect wild and rewilded turtle populations and their habitats, integrate local communities and fisherfolk into conservation strategies and research and conservation initiatives. At the same time, we will continue building community awareness and education outreach, champion the implementation of the newly drafted National Dermatemys Conservation, Management, and Action Plan, and work to change legislation governing turtle harvesting.  Collaborators include communities and public schools throughout Belize, active and retired fishers, Women's Conservation Group, Rancho Deloris Environment and Development Group, Belize Audubon Society, Wildlife Conservation Society–Belize, Santander Farm, Inc., Belize National Biodiversity Office, Belize Fisheries Department, Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic, Belize Zoo, and Missouri State University–Turtle Ecology Lab.

 “The Indian Turtle Conservation Program team continues to make a positive impact for critically endangered turtle and tortoise species in priority landscapes in India. The long-standing support we’ve received from the Disney Conservation Fund has, and will continue to be, greatly beneficial in making our project participatory in nature. Successful conservation measures in India are not possible without the engaging of local peoples in sharing wild spaces with its wildlife,” said Shailendra Singh, Director, Turtle Survival Alliance India program.

 A hatchling Black Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia nigricans) is released on the edge of a shallow lagoon in Chandubi Lake, Assam, India. Photo: Sushmita Kar

A hatchling Black Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia nigricans) is released on the edge of a shallow lagoon in Chandubi Lake, Assam, India. Photo: Sushmita Kar

 In India, the Disney Conservation Fund grant award will bolster our collaborative Black Softshell Turtle Vision Plan 2030. This plan envisions the wild reintroduction of 1,000 headstarted Black Softshell Turtles from Hindu temples to the Brahmaputra River Basin of Northeast India by the year 2030. This project entails direct conservation actions and engagement of key stakeholders towards achieving the long-term goal of a wild, viable, self-sufficient population of the species in the region. Turtle Survival Alliance and our regional partners in Assam, India, will accomplish this vision through securing adult Black Softshell Turtles as assurance population founders at Nagshankar and Hayagriva Madhava temples, incubating, hatching, rearing, and releasing offspring from the founder population, performing genetic assessments to prioritize individuals for conservation breeding, and furthering our community stewardship and alternative livelihood programs in fishing villages along the Brahmaputra River. This program is in collaboration with the Nagshankar and Hayagriva Madhava temple committees, Assam Forest Department, Assam State Zoo, Assam Tourism Development Corporation, Wildlife Conservation Society-India, District Administration Kamrup, and the community of Biswanath Ghat.

The Central American River Turtle and Black Softshell Turtle are victims of overhunting for their meat. The Central American River Turtle is native to Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico, where it lives in rivers, oxbows, and lagoons. As the largest freshwater turtle in Central America, its meat has been relied upon for millennia by native peoples as subsistence. As human populations have grown, the turtle’s population has declined, in large part due to the hunting of the turtle for consumption during religious or familial celebrations and continued hunting for subsistence. It is now ranked as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Belize is regarded as the species’ last stronghold. Likewise, the Black Softshell Turtle has been hunted to near extinction in its native Bangladesh and India. Formerly found in large rivers and their tributaries, the turtle was until recently regarded as Extinct in the Wild by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. No wild populations were known to exist until the mid-2000s when a few small remnant populations were discovered inhabiting the vast Brahmaputra River basin of Northeast India. Ironically, the turtle’s saving grace owes to a tradition of "donating turtles" to temples for religious purposes. In India, Nagshankar Temple today houses the largest captive population of the species. Nagshankar and Hayagriva Madhava temples’ Black Softshell Turtles now serve as the founder populations for which to repopulate the species in its native habitat in India.


About Turtle Survival Alliance

Formed in 2001, Turtle Survival Alliance is a global conservation organization that works to create a planet where tortoises and freshwater turtles can thrive in the wild. Our science-based initiatives are directed by local leaders, inspiring sustainable, community-based stewardship to prevent extinctions. Where populations cannot yet succeed in the wild, our breeding programs ensure their future survival.

With a mission to mission to protect and restore wild populations of tortoises and freshwater turtles through science-based conservation, global leadership, and local stewardship, Turtle Survival Alliance provides conservation breeding programs, field research, culturally appropriate conservation initiatives, and community engagement, and shares new research and techniques throughout the global turtle and tortoise conservation community. Turtle Survival Alliance currently supports collaborative conservation initiatives in 15 countries. For more information, visit: www.turtlesurvival.org; www.facebook.com/turtlesurvival; www.instagram.com/turtlesurvival; www.linkedin.com/company/turtle-survival-alliance/; @turtlesurvival on Twitter.