TSA’s Turtle Month Turtle Heroes — Week 2

Welcome to Week 2 of 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!

Sunday, May 1st

Today we recognize TSA Turtle Hero Jan Holloway!

Without TSA’s Administrative Coordinator Jan Holloway, the TSA would not be the global force for turtle and tortoise conservation that it is today. Her role cannot be overstated. Often working long hours, and always there when TSA needs her diverse skill set, Jan has since 2017 been the backbone of our Administrative Staff.

As Administrative Coordinator, Jan has a multitude of responsibilities, much of which are dedicated to ensuring the TSA functions as a whole at its highest level. Our staff, partners, donors, members, followers, and supporters know this well. When a helping hand is needed, Jan is there to reach out and provide it.

Of interest to many is that her devotion to turtle conservation was not her first in the animal world. Jan has been a lover of all animals since a very young age, but her true passion is horses. This love led to her earning an Associates of Applied Science degree in Equine Studies from Cazenovia College, New York, before continuing her education, earning a Bachelor’s of Arts in English with a focus in Creative Writing. Both her love of animals and writing skills have proven essential for TSA’s continued success and growth.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Jan’s favorite turtle is the Spotted Turtle (Clemmys guttata).

Thank you, Jan, for all you do to ensure the TSA functions at its highest level, and for helping to build a brighter future for endangered turtles and tortoises across the world.

Photo: Jordan Gray

Monday, May 2nd

Meet Dylan Wang, today’s TSA Turtle Hero!

When someone in the turtle conservation community mentions “Southern River Terrapin” and “Malaysia” in the same sentence, the name Pelf-Nyok Chen is most often associated. Pelf is the co-founder of Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia, a grassroots nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of the Southern River Terrapin (Batagur affinis) on the East Coast of Malaysia. Pelf is herself a Turtle Hero for this Critically Endangered species. Always by her side though is Assistant Project Coordinator Dylan Wang.

As Pelf runs TCS’s operations, Dylan informally leads the Southern River Terrapin conservation project. And, in a region where the terrapins and their eggs have been viewed as a food source for decades, Dylan’s conservation objectives are no small undertaking.

In the mid-2010s, the number of nesting female Southern River Terrapins in the Kemaman River numbered over 100. Due to a “perfect storm” of variables, in just three years this number diminished by 95%. Now, Dylan is dedicated not only to preserving the few nesting females that remain, but also to ensuring that the eggs they lay incubate and hatch successfully, and that the young turtles get a chance at survival.

Dylan is in constant contact with local villagers, and he provides educational outreach, organizes nest patrols, and coordinates the collection of eggs, which are incubated in the safety of TCS’s hatchery. His efforts are paying off. Now, hundreds upon hundreds of Southern River Terrapins hatch and are released into the river every year.

Though it may take decades to see the impact of Dylan’s commitment, his unfettered determination gives the Southern River Terrapin a fighting chance for a continued future in the wild in eastern Malaysia.

Photo: Vera Nieuwenhuis

Tuesday, May 3rd

Today’s TSA Turtle Hero is Gift Simon Demaya of South Sudan!

The Nubian Flapshell Turtle (Cyclanorbis elegans) is a little known, yet massive, Critically Endangered species. In fact, it’s one of the rarest turtles in the world, suspected to have quietly gone extinct until it was rediscovered in 2017 in a small reach of the White Nile in South Sudan (~25 miles of a 2,299-mile-long river). One of the team members that rediscovered it was, you guessed it, Gift Simon Demaya.

Gift is a lecturer of Wildlife Sciences at the University of Juba in South Sudan. A passionate naturalist and conservationist, Gift demonstrates a great knowledge for the wildlife in and around the White Nile. His interests include birds, crocodilians, and, of course, turtles. As an academic who interacts with people on a daily basis and a remarkable naturalist, Gift is just the right person to work at the intersection of the people and wildlife of his native South Sudan.

At present, Gift is working in the field to collect crucial ecological and natural history data on the Nubian Flapshell Turtle, a very demanding job considering how scarce the turtle is and how heavily the White Nile is fished. Though fish are the primary target of the fishermen who set the river with large nets, they also sell any turtles caught to local markets. Because of this, Gift frequently engages with local communities to enhance their knowledge of and appreciation for the Nubian Flapshell and its conservation requirements. A critically important aspect of this work is deterring people from capturing female turtles or digging up their eggs on the three sandbars on which they are known to nest—none of which are in protected areas.

While doing all this, Gift incorporates his students, teaching them field research methods and techniques with the goal of fostering a new generation of conservation biologists in South Sudan—the survival of the Nubian Flapshell depends on it.

Thank you, Gift, for all you do to learn about and protect the Nubian Flapshell Turtle, and for your dedication to sharing your knowledge and passion with your fellow South Sudanese!

Photo: Luca Luiselli

Wednesday, May 4th

May the 4th be with this Jedi Turtle Knight!

Guided by the forces of fearlessness, tenacity, and dedication, Tirindraza Horlando, today’s TSA Turtle Hero, is an intergalactic warrior in the fight against tortoise poaching.

Tirindraza is Team Leader of TSA Madagascar’s special task force to combat tortoise poaching and trafficking in the Androy Region of Madagascar. Equipped with a motorbike, cell phone, instinct, and the ability to rapidly mobilize, Tirindraza has a penchant for disrupting smuggling operations.

Though Tirindraza may seem like a lone-wolf vigilante, in fact he is aided by our Headquarters staff in the capital of Antananarivo, a network of informants, and works closely with the Ministry of the Environment and Sustainable Development (MEEF) and local gendarmes of Gendarmerie Nationale – Madagascar to detect, infiltrate, intercept, and bring poachers and smugglers to justice, all while saving many tortoise lives.

In December 2021, Tirindraza was at the forefront of intercepting and bringing to justice a network of smugglers carrying with them 868 Radiated Tortoises (Astrochelys radiata). This was just one of many large busts Tirindraza has initiated since his time with TSA. You can read and see photos of that harrowing and heroic ordeal HERE!

Thank you, Tirindraza, for your heroic efforts to save Madagascar’s iconic tortoises from wildlife trafficking and helping bring poachers to justice!

Photo: TSA-Madagascar

Thursday, May 5th

Today we celebrate TSA Turtle Hero Isabelle Paquet-Durand!

Dr. Isabelle Paquet-Durand is founder and lead veterinarian for the Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic (BWRC). The BWRC’s mission is to support wildlife conservation efforts; domestic animal health and welfare; and the veterinary profession in Belize through medical services, education, research, and collaboration.

Jacob Marlin, Executive Director of Belize Foundation for Research and Environmental Education (BFREE), first met Dr. Isabelle in 2011 when the Hicatee Conservation Network was being formed. Four years later, Isabelle made her first of many visits to BFREE’s biological field station and the TSA/BFREE Hicatee Conservation and Research Center. She immediately fell in love with the Central American River Turtle (Dermatemys mawii), or Hicatee, and has become a champion for the species. Because of her valuable insight and a keen interest in helping to conserve this animal, she was invited back to participate in all subsequent biannual Hicatee Health Assessments and has been a strong partner ever since.

Dr. Isabelle has been the lead Belize veterinarian evaluating our captive population of Hicatee. She attends two Hicatee Health Assessments per year to determine the health and reproductive status of our growing population of turtles. Just like baby humans, our hatchling and juvenile turtles are especially vulnerable to sickness caused by temperature changes, nutritional deficiencies, or other stressors. For this reason, when young turtles fail to thrive, Dr. Isabelle takes them to the clinic for several months to give them the additional veterinary care that will help them recover. This also gives her the opportunity to monitor them in order to gain a better understanding of their needs over time.

In the seven years that BFREE has partnered with Dr. Isabelle, they have been impressed by her commitment to wildlife like the Hicatee and to educating Belizeans and visitors from abroad.

Thank you, Isabelle, for all that you do every day to ensure a future for the Hicatee in Belize!

Photo: Heather Barrett

Friday, May 6th

Meet and wish a BIG HAPPY BIRTHDAY to David Hedrick, today’s TSA Turtle Hero!

If you’ve ever met David Hedrick, there’s one thing you’ve probably noticed—he’s a big man. His daily commitment to TSA’s vision of Zero Turtle Extinctions though is even bigger.

As a rapidly growing organization, TSA relies upon dedicated staff, partners, and volunteers to take on numerous responsibilities, many of which occur behind the scenes. As TSA’s Digital Content & Community Coordinator, David’s role allows him to manage a myriad of these operations, while regularly interacting face-to-face with those in our community.

David began working for TSA in 2015 as a contract employee, managing our social media. In the years since his role has grown greatly and in 2021 he became a full-time employee. David is the point person for TSA’s popular Drink Beer. Save Turtles.® events and partnerships, facilitates partnerships between TSA and American Association of Zookeepers chapters, maintains the Turtle Survival Alliance website, is an integral Program Committee member for our Annual Symposium on the Conservation and Biology of Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles, and serves on the TSA’s Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion Committee.

Owing to his “can do” attitude, David’s commitment to providing virtual learning opportunities has led to him hosting on behalf of TSA numerous symposiums, conferences, and meetings for our partner organizations including Partners in Reptile and Amphibian Conservation (PARC) and their subsidiaries, and Desert Tortoise Council.

Thank you, David, for all that you do every day to ensure a future for turtles and tortoises across the world—we couldn’t do it without you!

Photo: David Hedrick

Saturday, May 7th

Meet Alejandra Monsiváis, today’s TSA Turtle Hero.

Studies on Mexico’s native turtles are rare, but programs for underserved Mexican students are even rarer. Enter Alejandra Monsiváis. Alejandra is the cofounder of Students Conserving Nature, a Mexican nonprofit whose mission is to research and monitor populations of Mexican turtle species. But, Alejandra and Students Conserving Nature go one big step further.

Alejandra and cofounder Taggert Butterfield engage students living in rural areas to participate in the research and provide them with academic scholarships while doing it!

As cofounder of SCN, Alejandra plays a key role in building relationships in the communities where SCN works, participates in the research and monitoring of 11 turtle species, and performs nearly all administrative roles, such as accounting, coordinating local leaders, purchasing equipment, selecting scholarship students, and building relationships with government agencies. And, when she’s not doing all that, Alejandra volunteers her time to help others in the community, including supporting the local women of Sabinito Sur who make embroideries of native plants and animals from the Sonora region.

Alejandra has been a hero for Mexican turtles and the students involved in the program since day one. A Turtle Hero with passion, grit, and determination, she has taken on a seemingly infinite number of roles, each of which have been central to the success of this program.

Thank you, Alejandra, for all you do to ensure a future for the turtles of Mexico and better position students in rural areas for success in their own lives!

Photo: Taggert Butterfield

Sunday, May 8th

Happy Mother’s Day from the TSA!

On this joyous annual occasion, TSA would like to thank all the mothers out there who work tirelessly to make this world a better place (turtle moms and fur baby moms all the “other mothers” out there, too)! Without question, one of those is Julia Sisson Maitre, today’s TSA Turtle Hero!

When Julia, a mother of three, is not taking her children to ballet recital, Girl Scouts, baseball, basketball, or music lessons, there’s likely a chance she’s helping a turtle to cross the road. And, when you live in one of the turtle capitals of the world—Mobile, Alabama—that can be a full-time job. Thankfully, though, her three children love turtles and are her biggest helpers!

TSA learned about Julia’s heroic efforts in the spring of 2021 and we’ve been captivated ever since by the number of turtle lives she’s saved. In just the past year Julia has assisted 54 turtles of various species across the road. That’s more turtles given a helping hand in one year than most will save off the road in a lifetime! Needless to say, Julia is fast becoming an inspiration for her fellow Alabamians and regularly receives questions about turtle rescues.

When she’s not giving individual turtles another lease on life, Julia is actively working on bigger picture initiatives. Julia creates, coordinates, and facilitates environmental educational activities for their cover school, plans to purchase land for turtle conservation, and collaborates with local organizations such as the Mobile Botanical Gardens (who have a resident Gopher Tortoise population), Five Rivers Alabama Delta Resource Center, The Environmental Studies Center, and local schools to educate the public about how to appreciate and maintain Alabama’s status as one of the most turtle-diverse states in the USA.

Thank you, Julia, for being an inspirational hard-working mother who makes a difference for the lives of turtles!

Photo: Julia Sisson Maitre

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