Sep. 13, 2001 Turtles in Asia are facing possible extinction due to their unrestrained use as food, medicines and pet exports. By the 1990s most scientists who study turtles came to the conclusion that the Asian turtles were in crisis and predicted precipitous declines. A group of scientists from the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory (SREL), a research unit of the University of Georgia, located on the Savannah River Site in Aiken, South Carolina, has become one of 15 partners with the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), an international conservation group formed to address this problem. SREL joins groups from around the United States and from Germany, Hong Kong and Viet Nam.
Dr. Russell Mittermeier of Conservation International, one of the member groups, said, "We are on the brink of losing a group of animals that has managed to survive the upheavals of the last 200 million years, including the great extinction episode that eliminated the dinosaurs." Dr. Kurt Buhlmann, also of Conservation International, maintains a part time office at SREL from which he directs his conservation efforts. As the Conservation International member charged with designing collaborative conservation strategies for imperiled turtles worldwide, Buhlmann hopes to implement action by building ?Assurance Colonies? (see sidebar) for turtles. He also hopes to influence meaningful policies, promote field research and establish protected areas in the natural ranges of these turtles.
The full extent and gravity of this environmental crisis is strongest in the many photographs available which document the treatment of the turtles and only begins to touch on the number of individuals affected. TSA and its supporting groups believe the sheer numbers of turtles imported from Southeast Asia makes this trade unsustainable.
Dr. Whit Gibbons, also of SREL, has been a long-time supporter of reptiles and amphibians. He co-founded Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation and is lending his expertise to TSA in their efforts to curtail the destruction of the Asian turtles. He says, "The efforts of Conservation International on behalf of the world's turtles are to be applauded and should be supported by all individuals and organizations interested in the welfare of these fabulous reptiles."
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