by Jordan Gray
The Turtle Survival Alliance is excited to bring you a new segment featuring the people who make the TSA great! Without dedicated researchers, conservationists, educators, husbandry technicians and so on, the TSA would not be able to fulfill its mission of “Zero Turtle Extinctions”. We think it is time to regularly introduce you do these people. We hope that our “Faces of the TSA” will inspire YOU to become a chelonian conservationist!
Who: German Forero
What: Coordinator, TSA / WCS Colombian turtle program
Where: Colombia, South America
Jordan: What is your earliest childhood memory with a turtle or tortoise?
German: My parents got me a pet slider when I was 10. I loved the colors of the plastron and thought these animals were really cool. But it wasn’t really until I was an undergraduate that the passion for turtles started. I went to the field with Professor Olga Castaño, my mentor, and I caught a mud-turtle and she explained to me its name was Kinosternon scorpioides, because the hinges were kinetic. This was when I thought these were the most interesting animals and decided to start studying them under Olga´s advice.
J: What is your favorite species of turtle or tortoise to work with?
G: I have been working with Dahl´s Toad-headed Turtle (Mesoclemmys dahli) for several years. I think it is a fascinating species, because it is the only member of the Chelidae family to occur north of the Andes. It also survives in a highly transformed habitat, so I like the challenge of thinking how we can ensure its persistence.
J: How did you first become involved in turtle and tortoise research and conservation?
G: After that first experience finding mud-turtles with Olga Castaño, I decided to do my undergrad research with the White-lipped mud turtle (Kinosternon scorpioides albogulare). I went to live in San Andres Island to study the population using mark-recapture techniques. Dr. John Iverson kindly sent some thread-trailers so I could study some of their movements as well. I published the results from that study and from then I started getting involved with other endemic or threatened turtle species from Colombia.
J: What is the most amusing situation you have found yourself in, in the field?
G: The field is always fun. Once we did an expedition to look for the endemic Kinosternon dunni in western Colombia. We set our traps and stayed there waiting to check them. One of the students that came with us went for a walk near the site and came back with a turtle in his hands, he asked: is this the one? He had caught the first individual of the species in many years! We couldn’t believe it.
J: If you weren’t involved in turtle conservation, what would you want to do?
G: I do research on other species, particularly vertebrates, birds and mammals. I guess that if I didn’t spend so much time working with turtles I would be studying some other species, perhaps amphibians. I really like to be out in the field doing ecological research and trying to find ways to preserve some of the most threatened species.
J: What advice would you give to an aspiring chelonian conservationist?
G: I would say that sometimes it seems like turtles are not the best or the easiest group to study or work with. They are long-lived and there are not as many species as with other groups. However, they are one of the most threatened vertebrate groups on earth, so if you work for their conservation, your work is hugely important. Turtle conservation is growing, there are other passionate professionals like you, so you will not be alone in this task. Also, I would encourage aspiring chelonian conservationists to work with local communities and involve them in research and conservation activities. It is probably the only way to ensure sustainability of conservation efforts.
J: What attracted you to become part of the Turtle Survival Alliance?
G: I was impressed by their work in Asia and how they were dedicated to the most threatened species. This is the type of work that I love, and we saw an opportunity to act in South America before reaching such critical levels.