Protecting Turtles in the Time of COVID

Borrowing from the title of Gabriel Garcia Marquez‚Äô epic novel Love in the Time of Cholera, I reflect again on the impact of COVID-19 on TSA‚Äôs conservation efforts for turtles and tortoises around the globe. Despite the economic downturn, and our bleak financial outlook for 2020, we are pleased to announce that we have NOT laid off any staff to date, either in the US or abroad. Shutting down a program is simply not something we can afford to consider, because we have too many individuals, and indeed species, that depend on TSA for survival. Because the threats to turtles only amplify when we are not there to address them, turtle conservation does not take a day off.

It has been said that We Need Nature, Nature Does Not Need Us. I take partial exception to this mantra because Nature Does Need Us, now, more than ever! Consider animals ‚Äì turtles high among them ‚Äì that are heavily exploited by the illegal wildlife trade. Despite widespread travel bans in countries like Madagascar, poachers continue to operate, and we have been called on to handle at least three tortoise confiscations in the past few months‚Äîmercifully NOT at the level seen in 2018. However, despite the hardships and travel restrictions imposed by COVID-19 on our range-country staff, they continue to generate some impressive numbers that will make a lasting impact for endangered species.

Here are some highlights:

‚Ä¢ In Belize, our partners at BFREE announced the hatching of 184 Central American River Turtles out of 190 fertile eggs, our best hatch rate ever! And, because our field team is stranded in Belize, they have plenty of time for trial and innovation. Soon we will be releasing 144 hatchlings at four sites, two wild and two semi-natural, which will allow us to assess various factors influencing growth and survival.

‚Ä¢ Throughout South and Southeast Asia, an impressive number of River Terrapins, genus Batagur, have hatched‚Äî7,568 in total. Hatching success was impacted by travel bans in India, whereas our Bangladesh partners managed to hatch 115 Northern River Terrapins between two facilities. Interestingly, the Buddhist parts of SE Asia have been largely spared from the pandemic. Here, we saw impressive hatching numbers for Southern River Terrapin in Cambodia (a record 23), and Myanmar, with 189 Burmese Roofed Turtle hatched, the majority in captivity. Of note is that 17 of these hatchings in Myanmar are from a wild female that laid fertile eggs for the first time since the program started in 2006, adding valuable new genetics to this small gene pool. Given the circumstances, all-in-all a smashing success

‚Ä¢ In Colombia, our collaborative program with the community of Cotoca Arriba, hatched and released 2,296 Magdalena River Turtles, a record number!

• All our range-country program staff are busy writing proposals to help survive this crisis, and our India program has recently brought in some program-sustaining grants.

‚Ä¢ At our Turtle Survival Center, we added our first North American species to the collection plan, the Flattened Musk turtle, and are having a banner year from two species in the Indochinese Box Turtle complex, with 90 eggs incubating!

Wildlife trafficking has been at the forefront of conservation news lately, not just because of the link between the pandemic and animal markets, but because of the impacts that economic hardships are having on protecting wildlife. With tourism down there is often not enough revenue to keep guards in the field. We have to remain particularly vigilant during these hard times because the poachers and wildlife traders are not taking a break.

Whatever the threats are to the world‚Äôs turtles and tortoises, I want to personally assure you that when and where possible, TSA will be on the front lines working to address them. This is a solemn pledge that we will do our best to uphold to you, our legions of loyal followers and supporters. But please understand the severe economic strain under which we are working, trying to hold a line in the sand with seriously diminishing resources.

Today I am extending my third appeal since the pandemic struck, this one every bit as heartfelt as the first two. WE NEED YOUR HELP to get through this crisis. As I alluded to previously, roughly 25% of our revenue comes from Zoos and Aquariums, and that sector is struggling mightily to survive. In 2020 and perhaps beyond, we anticipate ‚Äì optimistically ‚Äì 40% of what we would normally receive to support our conservation programs. CLICK HERE TO DONATE TODAY.

All donations are greatly appreciated, but if you are considering a gift of $500 or more, I would love to chat with youPlease feel free to contact me directly. These are hard times for us all, and I want to make sure that our donors are warmly appreciated.

Please stay safe, wear a mask if you are out in public, and try to keep smiling. We will get through this together.

All my best,

Rick Hudson, President
Turtle Survival Alliance