On the Cusp of a TSA South America Program


Brian Horne and Rick Hudson represented the TSA recently at a South American turtle Red-listing workshop in Brazil, joining scientists and conservationists gathered to evaluate the conservation status of the tortoises and freshwater turtles of South America for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.  Spending at least ten days on a boat traveling down the Amazon River with the South American contingent, they used the opportunity to become familiar with the players in turtle conservation in those countries, and to discuss needs and priority areas. 

The Workshop on Conservation, Status and Strategic Action Planning for South American Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles was conducted from 10 to 14 October 2010 at the Reserva Biologica do Rio Trombetas, Porto Trombetas, Oriximiná, Pará, Brazil, and involved contributions from 44 participants from 14 countries in South America and beyond. The workshop was convened by the IUCN Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group, organized and co-hosted by the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia and the Reserva Biologica do Rio Trombetas, and co-sponsored by Conservation International, the Frankel Family Foundation, and the Panaphil Foundation.

The workshop concluded that the conservation outlook for South America’s turtles is worse than feared. Of the continent’s 47 species, three were assessed as critically endangered, another three as endangered, and ten are considered vulnerable to extinction.

The situation is particularly severe in Colombia, globally recognized as a hotspot of turtle diversity and richness. Colombia has more families of turtles than any other country in the world, and with 27 species, it is joint sixth country in the world ‚Äì tied with India and Vietnam - for total number of species. Four of the six most threatened turtles of South America occur in Colombia, and two of these occur only in Colombia and nowhere else on Earth.  The Magdalena River Turtle, Podocnemis lewyana, and the Carranchina or Dahl‚Äôs toad-head turtle, Mesoclemmys dahlia, are both endemic and ranked Critically Endangered and Endangered respectively.  Brazil and Colombia support the most diverse assemblages of turtles in South America ‚Äì Brazil has 29 species ‚Äì and their delegations were the best represented at the workshop.  But the similarities stop there.  The state governments of Brazil spend millions annually on river turtle conservation and recovery programs and are well-resourced and staffed. Turtle conservation in Colombia on the other hand is poorly funded despite having a talented, bright, passionate and highly motivated group of turtle researchers and conservation biologists.  With much of the western portion of the country occupying one of the world‚Äôs biodiversity regions - the Tumbes-Choco-Magdalena Hotspot - and supporting enigmatic species such as Kinosternon dunni for which precious little is known, Colombia is well positioned for a new wave of turtle conservation and discovery.  But they require additional support.

With little presence in South America (other than supporting Dick Vogt‚Äôs annual turtle techniques training workshop in Brazil), the TSA will soon begin deliberations on how to most effectively become established in this vast region.   From our initial perspective, it would appear that Colombia would be the logical place to launch a TSA South America program.  A fact finding trip there in July will likely provide answers and we hope to be able to report on a new TSA country program soon after.