TSA’s Turtle Month Turtle Heroes — Week 3

Welcome to Week 3 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!

Tuesday, May 10th

Meet brothers Chonchol and Komol Guala, today’s TSA Turtle Heroes!

The Guala brothers come from a working family on a large tea estate in the rolling hills of northeastern Bangladesh. Though born and raised into the tea labor industry, their passion for wildlife is taking them on a different path. Now, they are working to ensure a future for the turtles and tortoise native to their country—many of them Critically Endangered.

Chonchol, the eldest of the two brothers, began working with TSA’s partner Creative Conservation Alliance (CCA) in 2015 when he was in his late 20s. Now Chonchol is a Senior Field Research Assistant who plays a crucial role conducting field surveys and radio-tracking tortoises in the most remote regions of Bangladesh. Known for his calm and collected demeanor, Chonchol always bring very positive energy to his conservation work, even in the most difficult field conditions.

Chonchol’s younger brother Komol followed his elder brother’s footsteps out of the tea industry and into conservation. His path took him 100 miles from home and into one of the most important facilities for turtle and tortoise conservation in Bangladesh: the CCA / TSA / Bangladesh Forest Department Turtle Conservation Center in Bhawal National Park. There, since 2017, Komol has worked as an Animal Keeper, residing at the Center full-time while caring for more than 100 individual turtles and tortoises representing four Critically Endangered species.

Thank you, Chonchol and Komol, for following your passion and making a positive conservation impact for the endangered turtles and tortoises of Bangladesh!

Photo: Creative Conservation Alliance

Wednesday, May 11th

Today we celebrate TSA Turtle Hero Arpita Dutta!

If there were ever an all-around avid nature enthusiast, Arpita is it. Arpita also has the gift of engaging and educating people of all ages about the natural world and the ways in which each person can make an impact in preserving it.

Because of her outgoing personality, knowledge, and interpersonal skills, Arpita was hired by the TSA India Program in 2019 to spearhead the Nature Discovery Project in northeast India (one of the world’s foremost turtle diversity hotspots). Based out of the then recently renovated Nature Discovery Center in Biswanath Ghat, a village along the Brahmaputra River, and at the fringe of the Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve, Arpita was perfectly situated to utilize her skills to improve human-wildlife knowledge and interactions.

Arpita created an alternative livelihood program for families whose traditional source of income was fishing in reaches of the Brahmaputra known to be inhabited by the critically endangered Black Softshell Turtle (Nilssonia nigricans). Arpita engaged over 75 women from Biswanath Ghat, encouraging them to create gamocha with turtle-themed motifs. Gamocha is the most respected piece of cloth in Assamese culture. The intricately woven cloth is an art form, one for which traditional or cultural functions cannot be performed in Assamese culture. These gamocha quickly became an in-demand product that brought much needed income and empowerment for the women who created them.

In addition to the gamocha program, Arpita has educated tens of thousands of school children, both in person and virtually, was instrumental in providing assistance to flood-related wildlife rescue response, and continues to be active in spreading the message about turtle diversity, their plight, and the conservation efforts of TSA across India to save them.

Thank you, Arpita, for all you do for turtle conservation and your commitment to educating the next generation of wildlife conservationists—you’re an inspiration to all!

Photo: Shailendra Singh

Thursday, May 12th

Meet Julie Thompson Slacum, today’s TSA Turtle Hero!

For decades, turtles and tortoises of the United States have been collected for domestic and international food and pet markets. Now, many of those species are protected at State and Federal levels and their commerce regulated by The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Still, some of these species are regularly poached and/or smuggled from the wild to be sold as pets. A champion for their protection is Julie Thompson Slacum.

Julie is the Division Chief of Strategic Resource Conservation in the Chesapeake Bay Ecological Services Field Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. She’s also an integral member of The Association of Zoos and Aquariums Saving Animals from Extinction (AZA SAFE): American Turtle Program. In 2021 this program, which focuses on Spotted, Bog, Box, Wood, Blanding’s and other turtles, found its home with TSA.

The Program is built on partnerships that connect zoos and aquariums, Federal and state wildlife agencies, academic institutions, and NGOs. Building the framework and making these connections is no small feat.

Julie has been a driving force in helping to build these partnerships, not only with USFWS, but with other Federal and state agencies. As part of the founding leadership of the Collaborative to Combat the Illegal Trade in Turtles (CCITT) and its Confiscation and Repatriation working group, she has helped cement the strong bond between AZA and agency partners—essential to addressing the challenges posed by the illegal trade in turtles.

Thank you, Julie, for all you do to help ensure that the wild turtles of the United States, Canada, and Mexico continue to have a place in the wild where they belong.

Photo: Julie holding a Bog Turtle (Glyptemys muhlenbergii) by Scott Smith

Friday, May 13th

Meet Maharani, today’s TSA Turtle Hero!

On the Indonesian island of Sumatra, where turtles are often viewed as a source of food and while destruction to their habitat continues, conservation champions are in great need. One of those who answered the call is Maharani (or Rani to her friends and colleagues).

Rani began her conservation quest as an undergraduate student in the Marine Department of Syiah Kuala University, located at the northern tip of Sumatra. A profound interest in marine, mangrove, and wildlife (especially turtle) conservation led her to TSA’s partner Satucita Foundation, over 220 miles (354 km) away. There, the Satucita Foundation, led by Joko Guntoro, is working to preserve the critically endangered Painted Terrapin (Batagur borneoensis) in Sumatra’s northernmost province and beyond.

Following an internship with Satucita Foundation in 2019, Rani was hooked on Painted Terrapin conservation. She focused her undergraduate research on Painted Terrapins, specifically terrapin nest characteristics on two nesting beaches in Aceh Tamiang actively patrolled by Satucita Foundation. With her outright determination to make a difference for the future of the Painted Terrapin and their mangrove habitat in Sumatra, Rani joined the Satucita Foundation in 2021.

Today, Rani, serves as the Foundation’s secretary. In addition to managing the Foundation’s administrative tasks, she remains deeply involved in fieldwork, collecting of data, and ensuring a future for the coastal mangrove forests of northeastern Sumatra and the Painted Terrapins that live amongst them.

Thank you, Rani, for all you do for the Painted Terrapin and their habitats!

Photo: Satucita Foundation

Saturday, May 14th

Today we celebrate TSA Turtle Hero Chanti Gnourn!

Let’s face it, of the 352 living species of turtle and tortoise on Earth, some are more peculiar looking than others. In fact, some are downright bizarre, especially the giant Asiatic softshells. But they, too, inspire our awe, love, and, especially, conservation action.

One of them is the Cantor’s Giant Softshell Turtle (Pelochelys cantorii), also known as the Asian or “frog-faced” giant softshell. And they have a hero in Chanti Gnourn.

The country of Cambodia is rich in biodiversity, many species of which are found in and around the Mekong River. In fact, the Greater Mekong is the second most biodiverse river basin in the world after the Amazon. The Lower Mekong River Basin, though, is subject to the largest inland fisheries operations in the world. This, among other threats such as sand mining and damming, are major threats to its biodiversity and the survival of the Cantor’s Giant Softshell Turtle. As the WCS Cambodia’s Mekong Conservation Outreach and Team Leader, Chanti is up to the challenge.

Chanti supervises a conservation team along the Mekong River to conserve the Cantor’s Giant Softshell Turtle as well as fishery resources. To make an impact there, Chanti works in community development, livelihood development, biodiversity research, and conservation.

Chanti supervises nine government/community softshell turtle nest patrol teams across two provinces. In his time supervising the project, he and his teams have protected 235 Cantor’s Giant Softshell Turtle nests, which produced 4,564 hatchlings. Each year, the hatchlings are released into the Mekong River through several release ceremonies. The ceremonies not only provide joy for the patrol teams as they watch the fruits of their labor swim off into the river’s murky waters, but they also raise local and regional awareness through engaging the public in the release.

Under Chanti’s leadership, there has been a sharp reduction in threat level to the species habitat. He accomplishes this through leading educational programs and providing training on species conservation. He also leads an alternative livelihood program that builds capacity for fishermen to engage in aquaculture and vegetable gardening with the goal of reducing pressures on fisheries resources (including turtles).

Thank you, Chanti, for all you do for species conservation, promoting alternative livelihoods, and helping to ensure a future for the Cantor’s Giant Softshell Turtle in the Mekong River.

Photo: Sitha Som

Sunday, May 15th

Please join us in congratulating TSA’s President and all-time Turtle Hero, Rick Hudson!

Last evening, Rick formally accepted the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium’s Commitment to Conservation Award.

Rick, you’re an inspiration to conservationists around the world. Many species would not be on the road to recovery today if it were not for your unrelenting efforts toward ensuring their survival. Thank you for all you do.

From Columbus Zoo and Aquarium:

Yesterday during our Wine for Wildlife conservation fundraiser event, Rick Hudson accepted the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium’s 2021 Commitment to Conservation Award. Hudson is highly regarded in the wildlife conservation community through his work benefiting endangered turtles, tortoises, and iguanas.

The Zoo’s Commitment to Conservation Award was established in 2011 to recognize and reward global conservation heroes who have made a measurable impact on wildlife conservation, and to honor the lifetime achievements and dedication of the field partners who have shared a long-term working relationship with the Zoo. This biennial honor includes a $50,000 grant to support the recipients’ conservation work. The prestigious Commitment to Conservation Award is presented by GermainCars.

Hudson, a native of Stuart, Va., is a leading expert in the field of herpetology (the study of reptiles and amphibians). He is the founder and Executive Director of the International Iguana Foundation, which seeks to ensure the survival of iguana species through critical recovery and conservation initiatives. Hudson also played a fundamental role in the founding of the Turtle Survival Alliance in 2001 in response to the rampant and unsustainable harvest of Asian turtle populations to supply markets. Additionally, Hudson has worked at the Fort Worth Zoo for the past 41 years—21 of which has been in the facility’s conservation and science department.

The Columbus Zoo has provided support to Hudson’s worldwide conservation work since 1999 with a total of 49 grants. In addition to some grants that the Zoo awarded as annual donations, other grants that the Zoo provided were for specific projects, including emergency funds. The species that benefited from these grants face daunting conservation challenges, primarily due to the illegal wildlife trade (either for commercial pet markets, food, or traditional medicine), habitat loss, predation by invasive species, and other serious threats.

Congrats, Rick, on your incredible achievement! We thank you for your passion and dedication toward protecting the future of wildlife.

Photo: Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

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