by Heather Lowe 

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The Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) is pleased to announce that the 10th Annual John L. Behler Turtle Conservation Award was presented to Kalyar Platt (TSA Turtle Conservation Coordinator, Myanmar) at the 13th Annual Symposium on the Conservation and Biology of Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles in Tucson, Arizona on August 9. Kalyar is the first female recipient of this prestigious honor, as well as the youngest honoree in the award’s history.

The Behler Turtle Conservation Award was established in 2006 to honor leadership and excellence in the field of tortoise and freshwater turtle conservation. The award honors the memory of John L. Behler, previous Chair of the Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group and Curator of Herpetology at the Bronx Zoo, Wildlife Conservation Society.

Kalyar was born in 1972 and grew up in Yangon, Burma (which has since been named Myanmar). She attended Yangon University where she earned a BSc. with Honors in 1995 and her MSc. in 2000. Knowing the universities in Myanmar were apt to be closed at any moment by the ruling military junta, and hoping to pursue intellectual opportunities abroad, Kalyar moved to Bangkok in 2001 and began working for the Wildlife Conservation Society in Thailand. Shortly thereafter she was admitted into the graduate program at Chulalongkorn University where in 2007, she earned a Ph.D. Soon after, she moved to the United States to be with her husband, also a conservationist, who had taken a teaching position at Sul Ross University in Texas. They both dreamed of one day returning to Myanmar and devoting their energies to turtle conservation. In 2010, that dream became a reality when Kalyar was hired to spearhead the TSA’s Myanmar Program and soon after her husband took a position as the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Herpetologist for Southeast Asia.

Kalyar’s accomplishments since that time bespeak of her abilities. Her first achievement was reenergizing the nearly defunct Burmese Star Tortoise conservation program. To this end, Kalyar organized a national conservation workshop, and together with the participants developed an action plan outlining how and where to restore this iconic species which was nearly extinct in the wild. Not content to merely develop the plan, she next set out to execute it. The result is that nearly 250 Star Tortoises have since been reintroduced to the wild, with more soon to follow. Kalyar has also worked tirelessly to pull the Burmese Roofed Turtle back from the edge of extinction, overseeing the collection of eggs from the Chindwin River, conducting the first release of turtles this year, establishing a third captive assurance colony for this species, and boosting production of hatchlings at the Mandalay Zoo.

On receiving the award Kalyar said, “It is very special to me, especially knowing who has received it in the past and who elected me for the award. It is a tremendous vote of confidence. Turtle conservation is my passion and I will continue to devote my life to saving the unique turtles in my country.”

Kalyar’s achievements have not gone unnoticed in Myanmar where turtles are now at the forefront of the budding conservation movement. Indeed, in a recent Facebook post, the Assistant Director General of the Myanmar Forest Department wrote that TSA/WCS efforts on behalf of turtles is without exception the most effective conservation program in the country, and much of this success was due to the unceasing labors of one person, the Leik Saya Magyi (Indomitable Turtle Lady) of Myanmar, Kalyar Platt.

The 2015 John L. Behler Conservation Award is co-presented by the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), the IUCN Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group (TFTSG), the Turtle Conservancy (TC), and the Turtle Conservation Fund (TCF), the four organizations most closely tied to the turtle conservation legacy of John Behler. The award is generously sponsored by: Wildlife Conservation Society, Conservation International, Chelonian Research Foundation, Turtle Conservancy, Turtle Conservation Fund, IUCN-Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Special Group, George Meyer, Matt Frankel, Deborah Behler, and Brett and Nancy Stearns.