Philippines Crisis Becoming Manageable

by Heather Lowe 

TSA's Director of Animal Management Cris Hagen was the first member of the Turtle Survival Alliance staff to arrive in Palawan. After a week on site, Cris reports that "things are finally calming down and I think the general madness is over." Since arriving, Cris has been helping to release turtles as they are deemed suitable for release by the veterinary team. The following vignette – recounted by Cris - is a colorful illustration of the hardships of working in the tropics, often under adverse and unexpected conditions:

Paul Gibbons and I went on a release a couple of days ago that took about 24 hours. We spent the night in a village cabin, got up at 4:30 am and hiked about 4 km over a mountain (one way) with about 2 tons of turtles carried by hand in crates and in sleds pulled by water buffalos. We had five water buffalos pulling sleds with five crates each and about 10 people each carrying a crate or two over a mountain. When we left for the release, we thought we would only be gone for a few hours so we didn't have any supplies. When we got out of the jungle we were filthy and starving. We were soaked the entire time from rain, humidity, stream water, and sweat. We were also starving because we had nothing to eat with us. But it was a nice adventure that was one for the record books.

The news yesterday is that by the end of the week they will be down to about 500 turtles still requiring intensive veterinary care and treatment. These animals will be transported from the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center to the Katala Foundation's center in Narra for long-term medical treatment and care. This amazing turn around, from chaos to a manageable situation, is a tribute to the perseverance and dedication of the amazing team of veterinary staff and volunteers who have been working under the leadership of Sabine Schoppe of the Katala Foundation. In the words of Turtle Survival Alliance's President Rick Hudson, "I wouldn't wish this crisis on anyone, but if I had to pick someone to manage this situation, and I was limited to just one choice, it would be Sabine."

The Turtle Survival Alliance continues to deploy an expert team in Palawan. Most recently, Allyson Lee, an experienced vet tech and wildlife rehabber from Virginia has joined the team. Sheena Koeth, a veterinary tech from the Turtle Survival Alliance's Turtle Survival Center arrives today. We will continue to shuttle staff there to lend support to the long-term care of the remaining turtles. In terms of supplies, for now it appears that we have what we need due to the amazing donor support we have received this past week. In addition, SeaWorld has just come on board with an 'animal crisis grant' and new donations have arrived from the Columbus Zoo, Audubon Institute and Owen Griffiths.

This has truly been an international response and collaborative effort with partners from several zoos in both Europe and the US responding, as well as Ocean Park Hong Kong, Kadoorie Farms and Botanic Garden, Wildlife Reserves Singapore, Turtle Conservancy, Turtle Conservation Fund, IUCN Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group, Chelonian Research Foundation, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and more groups continuing to join the effort. Together, the turtle community has rallied around the single cause of helping our friends at Katala Foundation help their native turtles.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our members and supporters who generously donated to help with this crisis. There is still a long road to recovery for the hundreds of remaining animals that will require additional funding, but the immediate response of funds, personnel, and supplies, once again showed the dedication of the people that make up the Turtle Survival Alliance.

Special thanks to:

Audubon Institute, Columbus Zoo, Houston Zoo, Lehigh Valley Zoo, Moody Gardens and Aquarium, SeaWorld, Steinhart Aquarium, Turtle and Tortoise Preservation Group, Woodland Park Zoo, Zoo Med Laboratories

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