Inaugural Turtle Biology, Conservation, and Management Course
September 25, 2023
The Turtle Survival Center becomes a hub for knowledge, experience, and collaboration for first-ever “Turtle School.”
By Chelsea Rinn
This fall, Turtle Survival Alliance hosted its inaugural Turtle Biology, Conservation, and Management course at the Turtle Survival Center, co-sponsored by the AZA Chelonian Advisory Group.
The Alliance’s foundation upon science-based conservation, coupled with the Turtle Survival Center being a hub of knowledge, experience, and passion for turtles, created a perfect opportunity for collaboration and exchange between some of the most renowned turtle experts in the field.
For seven days we opened our doors to a diverse group of experts and participants, from the United States and abroad. Together, we embarked on an information-intensive journey that encompassed a wide spectrum of turtle-related topics.
Beginning the week with foundational talks, such as “What is a Turtle?” and discussing anatomy and physiology, the days progressed to more complex topics like handling, exhibit design, reproductive ecology, and clinical techniques. Each day was a combination of comprehensive lectures and hands-on experiences. Course participants not only had the unique opportunity to interact with the turtles residing in our care at the Turtle Survival Center, but also take part in live labs and demonstrations, including supervised turtle breeding and necropsies.
The week was rounded off by a trip to Salleyland, a 100-acre tract of farmland in Aiken County, South Carolina, and a herpetologist’s dream. The property is packed with a great diversity of habitats, reptiles, and amphibians, and is owned by local and renowned herpetologist, naturalist, and writer, Dr. Whit Gibbons. Between this property and the 51-acre Turtle Survival Center, course participants learned trapping and field techniques and were able to observe 32 native species of reptiles and amphibians over the course of the week.
And, what made this course truly exceptional was the inclusion of expert guest lecturers. Well-known figures in the field, they brought their invaluable insights and expertise, and enriched the learning experience for all.
With unending gratitude, we extend our thanks to each of them:
Dr. Kurt Buhlmann, University of Georgia–Savannah River Ecology Lab: A dedicated researcher and advocate for turtle conservation, and this year’s John Behler Award recipient.
Dr. Peter Paul van Dijk,Re:wild: A leading authority on chelonian conservation and taxonomy.
Dr. Charlie Innis, VMD, New England Aquarium: A veterinary expert specializing in turtle and marine animal health.
Dr. Bonnie Raphael, DVM, Turtle Survival Alliance: An accomplished veterinarian and Board Certified specialist in zoological medicine, zoological and wildlife veterinary services and training, and Turtle Survival Alliance’s Senior Veterinary Advisor.
Kathy Vause, Riverbanks Zoo: An experienced figure in the chelonian care and husbandry community, and Turtle Survival Center volunteer.
Dr. Sean Doody, University of South Florida: An expert in herpetology, particularly in the field of crocodiles and turtles.
Bill Hughes, Tennessee Aquarium: A leading herpetologist and advocate for turtle conservation and management.
Michael Ogle,Zoo Knoxville: A renowned curator and herpetologist recognized for efforts in turtle conservation and species survival.
Jeff Dawson, Saint Louis Zoo: A dedicated and innovative herpetology professional with a wealth of experience in turtle management.
Our continued appreciation goes to Cris Hagen, Turtle Survival Center Director, and Clinton Doak, Assistant Curator, for facilitating this incredible event and sharing their own extensive knowledge with course participants. And to the entire TSC staff who helped make this course a reality and ensured its success.
Finally, but certainly not least, we extend our sincere thanks to all the participants who joined us in this incredible learning opportunity. You will forever be our inaugural “Turtle School” class, thank you for your commitment to the well-being and conservation of turtles.
As we reflect on the success of this first Turtle Biology, Conservation, and Management course, we are filled with optimism and determination to continue this tradition in the years to come. This course underscored the importance of turtle conservation and the vital role that dedicated professionals play in safeguarding their future. We look forward to welcoming even more participants and experts in the field in 2024 and beyond, growing the global community dedicated to safeguarding these incredible animals.
Header Image: Turtle School participants and Turtle Survival Alliance staff take a group photo with Dr. Whit Gibbons at his property, Salleyland.
All photos courtesy of Chelsea Rinn and Cris Hagen
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