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Heather Lowe, Turtle Survival Alliance

Could you state your name and the organisation you work for/ founded

Heather Lowe, Turtle Survival Alliance

When was the organisation founded?

2001, in response to the Asian Turtle Crisis

What is your position or role in the organisation?

Program Manager; I handle most of the administrative duties including accounting, website maintenance, marketing, grant writing, etc.

What are the main goals of your organisation?

The TSA is committed to zero turtle extinctions.

Could you tell us something about recent projects?

We recently opened the Turtle Survival Center (TSC) in South Carolina. The facility, previously owned by a veterinarian and conservationist, was used for wildlife rehabilitation and comes equipped with much of the infrastructure and equipment required for successful turtle and tortoise breeding operation.

The TSC collection plan includes seven species of tortoises and 20 species of freshwater turtles – primarily Asian – that have been carefully selected for assurance colonies. Four of the tortoises and 16 of the turtle species are ranked by the IUCN Red List as being Critically Endangered, the category with the highest risk of extinction. Nine are identified on the list of the World’s 25+ Most Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles. Several are already extinct in nature and exist only in captivity.  These facts speak convincingly to the critical need for captive breeding as a means of offering a future for those species with no foreseeable future in nature. It is critical that we don’t allow them to slip through our fingers all together.  Once such species are secured in captivity, options for returning them to protected areas in the future can be explored.

What is in your opinion the biggest success of your organisation since it started?

We have saved several species from certain extinction through emergency efforts that have included the development of assurance colonies and captive breeding programs.  Most recently, this list included the Northern River Terrapin (Batagur baska). Details on our efforts for this species can be found here: http://www.turtlesurvival.org/component/taxonomy/term/summary/36/37#.UoZXOHDFKAg

Do you have any specific goals in the near future?

  • Complete renovations of the Turtle Survival Center and finish moving the collection on site
  • Spearhead the reintroduction of Burmese star tortoises in Myanmar, in cooperation with the Wildlife Conservation Society
  • Complete the construction of four rescue centers in Madagascar that will serve as staging areas for the rehabilitation and reintroduction of critically endangered tortoises rescued from the wildlife trade

Why is your work so important?

Simply put, turtles and tortoises face an unprecedented extinction crisis and have become the most endangered group of vertebrates in the world. Turtles play a critical ecological role in the environments in which they occur. However, within the next 20 years, as many as one-third of the world’s 300 freshwater turtles and tortoises could become extinct.  Humans can be blamed for much of the decline in the tortoise and freshwater turtle populations, particularly in China (the world’s largest consumer of turtles) where meat and shells are believed to have medicinal value and the volume of trade is measured in tons per day.

Could you give an idea, what organisations like the Herpetofauna foundation, can contribute to your work?

The success of Turtle Survival Alliance depends on the partnerships that we have formed throughout the world. Foundations are always welcome to become an Organizational Member of the TSA, or to sponsor a project or program. Additionally, organizations are encouraged to help spread the word about the work that the TSA is doing (and the issues facing turtles globally).

How can people get involved in your work?

We have volunteer opportunities at the Turtle Survival Center and with the North American Freshwater Turtle Research Group. We hope to have international opportunities in the future. You can learn more here: http://www.turtlesurvival.org/get-involved/volunteer#.UoU8VXDFKAg

Additionally, anyone can become a member of the TSA and can join online: http://www.turtlesurvival.org/get-involved/become-a-member