TSA's Turtle Month Turtle Heroes - Week 1

Welcome to TSA's Turtle Month! Every day, from Earth Day through World Turtle Day® on May 23rd, TSA is highlighting the people who make possible our collaborative programs across the world for the preservation of threatened turtles and tortoises. Without these Turtle Heroes, we could not achieve our vision of Zero Turtle Extinction! For their tireless efforts, we say thank you!

You can help these Turtle Heroes and other turtle conservationists like them continue their important work for the survival of turtles and tortoises by becoming a TSA Donor today!

Friday, April 22nd

Today we recognize TSA Turtle Hero Pawan Pareek!

Pawan started as a novice turtle conservationist with the TSA India Program in 2018 and quickly became a highly-respected and essential member of the team. As Project Officer, Pawan spearheads the species recovery program for two critically endangered species, the Red-crowned Roofed Turtle (Batagur kachuga) and Three-striped Roofed Turtle (Batagur dhongoka) in the National Chambal Sanctuary. There, he patrols miles of the Chambal River's banks and sandbars each day during the spring season to locate nests deposited by these endangered turtles.

Once Pawan and his teammates locate a vulnerable nest, they transfer the eggs to the safety of TSA's riverside hatcheries. There, the eggs incubate and hatch under the watchful eye of Pawan and others. In just his last four years with the program, Pawan has played a crucial role in hatching and releasing tens of thousands of roofed turtles into their native Chambal River. Thanks to his tireless devotion, Red-crowned and Three-striped roofed turtles have a chance at survival in northern India.

Photo: Shailendra Singh

Saturday, April 23rd

Today we recognize TSA Turtle Hero Me Me Soe!

Since joining the TSA/Wildlife Conservation Society Myanmar program in 2011 as Research Officer, Me Me's contribution to the success of the program cannot be overstated. Dedicated and highly motivated, she participates in almost every aspect of the program's efforts to save the turtles and tortoises of her country from extinction.

Arguably the most iconic species of our Myanmar program is the Burmese Star Tortoise (Geochelone platynota). Considered nearly extinct in the wild just 16 years ago, the tortoise now is thriving once again in protected areas of Myanmar's Central Dry Zone. This conservation achievement is due in large part to Me Me Soe's perseverance.

Since 2013 Me Me has managed the highly successful rewilding of headstarted Burmese Star Tortoises into Minzontaung and Shwesettaw wildlife sanctuaries. She manages large assurance breeding colonies at the sanctuaries, conducts almost daily monitoring of translocated tortoises, constructed and maintains pre-release pens (and cares for tortoises in those pens), coordinates law enforcement patrols with sanctuary staff, and actively engages local communities with a conservation education program. These responsibilities require her to spend much of each month living under rather rustic conditions at the wildlife sanctuary, but she wouldn't have it any other way.  

Photo: Shine Hsu Hsu Naing

Sunday, April 24th

Today's TSA Turtle Hero is Dr. Charlie Innis, Director of Animal Health at the New England Aquarium!

Dr. Innis is well known for his work in both the health and conservation of turtles. New England Aquarium has a long history of rescuing cold-stunned sea turtles and responding quickly to turtles in trouble. Dr. Innis was also at the forefront of efforts to confront the many health challenges arising from the Asian turtle crisis in the late nineties-a crisis which led to Turtle Survival Alliance's formation.

So, it was no surprise that he responded quickly last summer to accept a group of almost one hundred confiscated Eastern Box Turtles (Terrapene carolina). The TSA-based American Turtle SAFE Program assisted USFWS in placing these turtles in Dr. Innis' care. As a SAFE partner and member of the Program's Health and Welfare working group, Dr. Innis contributed to the development of a disease screening protocol for confiscated turtles.

The box turtle confiscation was an excellent test case, leading to the development of a pilot project to form a rapid response network for turtle confiscations in the greater New York-New England area.

Thank you, Dr. Innis, for all you do for the health and wellbeing of turtles!

Photo: New England Aquarium

Monday, April 25th

Today's TSA Turtle Hero is Hasanul "Hassan" Islam, Northern River Terrapin Keeper at the Zoo Vienna Schönbrunn / Bangladesh Forest Department's assurance and breeding facility in Bhawal National Park, Bangladesh!

Hassan grew up in a village near Bhawal National Park just north of the capital city of Dhaka. The son of a farmer, Hassan's interest in turtles began at a young age. In 2015, after three months of training, Hassan made the leap from turtle enthusiast to providing daily care for one of the world's most endangered turtles, the Northern River Terrapin (Batagur baska).

Known by his project leaders as a quick learner with a kind heart, Hassan brings to the program the dedication necessary to care for seven irreplaceable adult terrapins at the Bhawal facility, as well as locating and protecting their eggs, and raising hatchlings. This has helped tremendously both the program and the future of the Northern River Terrapin in Bangladesh. The Zoo Vienna Schönbrunn / Bangladesh Forest Department captive breeding program is the world's largest, with more than 450 terrapins now residing in their assurance colonies.

Thank you, Hassan, for all that you do every day to ensure a future for the Northern River Terrapin in Bangladesh!

Photo: AGJ Morshed

Tuesday, April 26th

Meet Camila Durán of the Wildlife Conservation Society, today's TSA Turtle Hero!

Camila is an integral member of the TSA/WCS Colombia program. A seasoned field biologist, she works along the Meta River of northeastern Colombia to help ensure a future for the Giant South American River Turtle (Podocnemis expansa). The population Camila helps protect is the largest in Colombia and the second largest outside of the Amazon.

In addition to her research, Camila engages with and educates the riverside communities, spreading knowledge about the importance of conserving local turtles, as well as the turtles' behavior, threats, and cultural and biological importance.

Prior to joining the TSA/WCS program this past year, in 2015 Camila began her turtle research and conservation work with TSA's partner Fundación Omacha. There, she performed surveys and VHF telemetry for other species in Colombia's wetlands such as the Savanna Side-necked Turtle (Podocnemis vogli) and the Yellow-spotted River Turtle (Podocnemis unifilis).

Camila's dedication in the field during the Giant South American River Turtle nesting season helps other team members better understand the methods used. And her passion for turtles and attention to detail is evident as she spends countless hours organizing and checking data collected from the field. Camila is an inspiration for up-and-coming biologists everywhere!

Thank you, Camila, for all that you do every day to ensure a future for the turtles of Colombia!

Photo: Camila Durán

Wednesday, April 27th

Today's TSA Turtle Hero is Caitlin Crosby of the South Carolina Aquarium!

Caitlin Crosby not only is the Senior Sea Turtle Biologist for the South Carolina Aquarium's Sea Turtle Care Center™, she's a star volunteer for our Turtle Survival Center (TSC)! Caitlin has been volunteering consistently at the TSC for many years. She first assisted at the Center during a volunteer event while she was an AmeriCorps member on Jekyll Island, Georgia. There she served on the Husbandry and Education teams at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center.

Following her AmeriCorps assignment, Caitlin's knowledge, drive, and dedication to turtle conservation allowed her to continue doing what she loved at the South Carolina Aquarium. Luckily for TSA, this brought her closer to our Center, where she has continued to volunteer, which is no easy job. From digging ditches to mulching enclosures and trudging through dark mucky ponds to catch turtles, as well as building dozens of small concrete pools by hand, Caitlin has done it all. Through it all, she's always had a great attitude and been quick to jump in and help. Caitlin is a joy to work with, and we are grateful to have had her help over all of these years. Thank you, Caitlin, for all you do!

Photo: South Carolina Aquarium

Thursday, April 28th

Meet Yusriono of the Satucita Foundation, today's TSA Turtle Hero!

The name Yusriono is synonymous with Painted Terrapin (Batagur borneoensis) conservation in Sumatra, Indonesia. Ever since the 2010 preliminary study of this species in the regency of Aceh Tamiang, Yusriono has been the right-hand man to Painted Terrapin conservation project leader Joko Guntoro. Together, they continue to make a positive conservation impact for this beautiful and critically endangered species.

In 2011, Yusriono was selected as Chairman of the Satucita Foundation and holds that position to this day. As a former journalist in the local media of Aceh Province, Yusriono acquired a deep knowledge and understanding of the province's culture and developed broad relations with local stakeholders. These proved vital to the development of the Painted Terrapin conservation program and the organization as a whole.

Though the Satucita Foundation is a small organization, Yusriono's impact is large, and he is often involved in field activities such as nest patrols, field surveys, outreach, and public education. Due in no small part to is efforts, the Painted Terrapin has a fighting chance for survival in the waters of northeastern Sumatra.

Thank you, Yusriono, for all that you do every day to ensure a future for the Painted Terrapin and its habitat!

Photo: Joko Guntoro

Friday, April 29th

Meet Madeleine Morrison of TSA's North American Freshwater Turtle Research Group, today's TSA Turtle Hero!

Madeleine has since the young age of 17 been an integral member of our TSA North American Freshwater Turtle Research Group. She first joined the group in 2015 as a high schooler with a strong sense of Florida's aquatic environments, and demonstrated natural abilities, maturity, and poise. Following her first research outing with the group, Madeleine has volunteered with almost every study in Florida and some in Texas ever since.

Over the last 6+ years Madeleine learned how to capture, handle, and process (mark, measure, weigh, and assess health) hundreds of freshwater turtles representing 11 species, ranging in size from the small Eastern Musk Turtle (Sternotherus odoratus) to large Florida Softshells (Apalone ferox) and Common (Chelydra serpentina) and Suwannee Alligator (Macrochelys suwanniensis) snapping turtles. Everything Madeleine was taught she quickly mastered.

Due to her hard work ethic, natural ability, and genuine interest, in 2017 Madeleine undertook a research project on the dietary preference of Eastern Musk Turtles at one of our Texas study sites. Madeleine's findings led not only to her publishing two scientific journal articles, but the turtles' preference for consuming four invasive snail species proved an important discovery with ramifications on how the ecosystem will be managed going forward.

Madeleine has become one of the research group's core family members and her continued participation is extremely important to its future success. Suffice to say, Maddie has turned into one of TSA's brightest stars.

Photo: Brett Bartek

Saturday, April 30th

Meet Phun Thorn of the Wildlife Conservation Society-Cambodia, today's TSA Turtle Hero!

If there was ever a turtle that needed a hero it would be the Southern River Terrapin (Batagur affinis), one of the world’s most endangered turtles. In Cambodia, that hero comes in the form of Phun Thorn, Conservation Outreach and Team Leader for WCS-Cambodia.

With more than six years of experience working in biodiversity research and conservation, Phun plays a critical role in species preservation. A hard-working and committed staff member of WCS-Cambodia since 2017, Phun dedicates all of his energy to ensuring a future in Cambodia for the Southern River Terrapin and the Siamese Crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis) within the Sre Ambel River system.

Since joining the project, Phun leads a group of community turtle nest wardens to locate and protect the nests of Southern River Terrapins on sand bars of the Sre Ambel. With only a handful of wild adult terrapins remaining in the Sre Ambel, the protection of any nests laid is of paramount importance. To date, Phun and his team have protected six nests consisting of 51 hatchlings. Though that may not seem like a lot, for a species as rare as the Southern River Terrapin, those six nests are their future.

In addition to terrapin nest protection, Phun actively leads the post-release monitoring program for terrapins headstarted at the Koh Kong Reptile Conservation Centre and released into their native waters of the Sre Ambel. In just the last several years, 147 subadult Southern River Terrapins have been released.

Last, but certainly not least, Phun leads the community awareness and education programs to encourage students and locals of villages in Koh Kong Province to appreciate and conserve this critically endangered species, as well as supervises the community patrol teams to reduce their threats.

Through Phun's vigorous dedication, the Cambodia program has made significant achievements, and for that we are grateful. Thank you, Phun.

Photo: WCS-Cambodia