Rote Island Snake-necked Turtle
From the outset, Turtle Survival Alliance made a bold commitment to “Zero Turtle Extinctions in the 21st Century”. We soon realized that the survival of some endangered species could not be assured without effective captive breeding programs (known as “ex situ” conservation). Some species require long-term management if they are to avoid extinction. Turtle Survival Alliance created the Turtle Survival Center (TSC) in 2013 in order to establish scientifically managed populations of certain of these species. It is our intention to integrate the conservation of these species, where possible, with conservation of species in the wild in situ (in nature). We will do this by integrating programs at the TSC with our field programs as well as those of other individuals, organizations and governments that we work closely with. Offspring produced from carefully managed captive conservation breeding programs can be used for wild population augmentation or reintroduction, thus providing options for the future. The TSC also provides opportunities for young turtle conservationists from around the world to learn about all aspects of captive husbandry for a variety of critically endangered chelonians, their reproductive biology, enclosure design and maintenance, and veterinary care.
Thanks to the support of generous donors who shared our vision, in 2013 Turtle Survival Alliance purchased the property in Cross County, South Carolina that now houses the TSC. We have expanded its facilities through the years, again with the support of our donors, so that, today, it is a world-class turtle conservation center, accredited by the American Zoological Association (AZA), which provides us with the much-needed ability to manage our captive assurance colony programs from a single location.
Today the TSC is home to a collection of more than 600 turtles and tortoises, representing 23 of the world’s most endangered species, seven of which are ranked in the Top 25 of the World’s Most Endangered Turtles and Tortoises. The species maintained strictly for population management at the TSC have been carefully chosen based on a decision tree featuring a variety of criteria such as conservation status, lack of effective in situ protection and management, poor history of captive-breeding success, and ability to thrive in South Carolina’s mild subtropical climate. We also maintain some species for our education programs.
Looking forward, we aim to expand the TSC facilities and its staff to achieve a primary goal of maintaining genetically diverse populations of priority critically endangered species that require captive management for survival. The talented and knowledgeable staff is at the forefront of advancing the captive husbandry of turtles and tortoises. Due in part to the high quality of husbandry provided at the TSC, we have experienced rapid population growth with our successful captive breeding programs. Of the species that have been represented at the TSC since its inception, 23 have successfully bred.
For some of these species, this captive reproduction significantly increases the number and genetic diversity of those managed in captivity. This work leads to the ultimate goal of providing options in the future for reintroducing carefully managed and propagated offspring back to the wild and/or augmenting populations that have been severely depleted. For one species, the Rote Island Snake-necked Turtle (Chelodina mccordi), a dream is becoming reality as offspring hatched at the TSC will soon be integrated into a collaborative program to rewild the species on their native Indonesian island of Rote.
Why South Carolina:
The location chosen for the Turtle Survival Center resulted from a chance property offer, followed by careful strategic geographic and climate-focussed analysis. The former owner of the property developed the facility as a private crocodilian conservation center and wildlife rehabilitation center. Because of this, there were many desirable amenities already in place on the property for turtle conservation, including a small well-equipped animal veterinary clinic, enclosed ponds, some outdoor enclosures and some staff housing. The owner offered the property to TSA in 2013 for a price equal to its fair market value. In our review of that opportunity, we took a detailed look at the climate in that location and concluded that it would be optimal for many of the priority species that we wanted to maintain there. The climate, which is subtropical, allows for a mild winter cooling period that is important for successful reproduction. As a result, many of our turtle and tortoise residents can live comfortably outdoors year-round. We also concluded that the property would give us opportunities for expansion, which we have taken advantage of over the years by building out new infrastructure and amenities. Once we acquired the property, we were able to move our large collection of at-risk species, then managed by Cris Hagen, to the TSC. Cris continues to manage our animal collections as TSC Director.
Expanding our Facility:
The TSC is actively building robust captive populations of endangered species that have little or no chance for survival in the wild. They will likely depend on long-term captive management to avoid extinction. To do this we create appropriate, species-specific habitats, promote reproduction through optimal environmental conditions, and provide top-notch health care and animal nutrition, while actively looking to expand in all these areas. Over the years since the TSC was purchased, we have built numerous outdoor ponds for aquatic species, housing complexes for forest and semi-aquatic species, a tortoise barn adjoining multiple outdoor paddocks, a hatchling grow-out room, juvenile grow-out barn, indoor holding area for numerous tropical species, a greenhouse for certain Asian species with tropical climate requirements, a quarantine building, office and conference room, staff housing, intern facility, a state-of-the-art veterinary clinic, and the brand new Assurance Colony Expansion building.