In Memoriam: Bern Tryon

Photo courtesy Turtle Survival Alliance
Knoxville Zoo Mourns the Passing of Bern Tryon,
Director of Herpetology

KNOXVILLE, Tenn., May 11, 2011— Knoxville Zoo is saddened to announce the passing of Bern Tryon, the zoo’s director of herpetology. An iconic figure in his field, Bern was instrumental in the preservation and survival of endangered bog turtles in East Tennessee. During his 27 years at Knoxville Zoo, he built a legacy that rallied a community behind the conservation of a tiny turtle and their fragile habitat.

“With the passing of Bern Tryon, conservation has lost one of its greatest champions. Our Knoxville Zoo family has lost a friend and a highly respected family member. Bern had instilled his passion for conservation and animal care in his staff who will continue his important work,” says Jim Vlna, executive director of Knoxville Zoo.

Bern’s professional career started in 1971 in Atlanta, Georgia, where he was a reptile keeper at Zoo Atlanta. His path took him to Fort Worth Zoological Park and Houston Zoological Gardens before he joined Knoxville Zoo as Curator of Herpetology in 1984. His interest in the protection, management and restoration of habitats for rare and endangered species of reptiles made him a passionate champion of bog turtles when they were discovered in a single bog in upper East Tennessee in 1986. Bern became the primary researcher for bog turtles in the state, and in the ensuing 25 years worked to attain the long-term viability of bog turtles and protection of their habitats.

Bern received numerous honors and awards for his work, including recognition from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) Turtle Conservation Lifetime Achievement Award. It was also under Bern’s leadership that Knoxville Zoo was recognized with the prestigious Bean Award, presented by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), for being the first in the world to successfully breed Papuan pythons.

Bern passed away on Friday, May 6, 2011, after a long battle with cancer. He leaves behind a thriving population of bog turtles in sites throughout upper East Tennessee, and a dedicated team who will continue the vision Bern had devoted his career bringing to fruition.

“Bern’s reach and influence stretched across the country and around the world,” says Phil Colclough, curator of herpetology at Knoxville Zoo. “He was an icon to conservation and zoo herpetology, but more importantly, he was a friend to many. We will miss him dearly.”
—Knoxville Zoo press release

Photo courtesy Turtle Survival Alliance

Detailed Obituary written for the Knoxville News Sentinel
By Cheryl Tryon

Bern W. Tryon, age 64, passed away at his home in Sevierville, Tennessee, Friday, May 6, 2011, after a long battle with cancer. He was preceded in death by his parents Willard William and Helene Kish Tryon. He is survived by his loving daughter, Katherine Tryon, and granddaughter, Sophia, from Richmond, Virginia.

Bern received a BS in Biology at Gardner-Webb University, North Carolina, in 1971. He began his illustrious career in herpetology as a Reptile Keeper/Senior Reptile Keeper at Zoo Atlanta, Atlanta, Georgia (1971–1974). Next he became Assistant Supervisor/Supervisor of Reptiles at the Fort Worth Zoological Park, Fort Worth, Texas (1974–1980), and then Supervisor/Keeper of Herpetology at the Houston Zoological Gardens, Houston, Texas (1980–1984). Bern joined the Knoxville Zoological Gardens, Knoxville, Tennessee in 1984. He held the following positions: Curator of Herpetology (1984–2009), General Curator (1994–1997), and Director of Animal Collections/Herpetology (2000–present).

During his 40-year career, Bern wrote over 30 papers and articles relating to herpetological techniques, reproductive biology, and conservation including many which dealt with bog turtles. He was affiliated with various professional organizations such as the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, the IUCN Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group, and the Snake Taxon Advisory Group (AZA). From 1979 to 1992 he served as the Section Editor (Herpetological Husbandry), for Herpetological Review, Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles (SSAR). He was also on the Editorial Review Board for the Chelonian Conservation and Biology, Chelonian Research Foundation (1993– 2005), and the Board of Directors, Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles (1992–1994). He has been the Tennessee Director for Project Bog Turtle since 2003.

Bern conducted many field conservation activities directly related to the protection, management, and restoration of habitats for rare and endangered species of reptiles. He was also involved in captive-breeding and head-starting release programs for reptiles and amphibians.

He received numerous prestigious awards for his outstanding contributions to conservation and research for the bog turtle in the Southeast from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Project Bog Turtle,

Bern Tryon at Orchard Bog, 2007
Photo: Merrill Lynch
and the American Zoo and Aquarium Association. In addition, he received a Turtle Conservation Lifetime Achievement Award from the Turtle Survival Alliance and the IUCN Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group. He also received grants from the Conservation Endowment Fund, American Zoo and Aquarium, to conduct research on bog turtles (Clemmys muhlenbergii) in the South.

Although Bern served as a director at Knoxville Zoo during the last part of his career, he will always be remembered as an advocate for staff from the keeper-one level, all the way to the director. His wealth of experience garnered from working at many other institutions throughout his career gave him gave him a real knack for handling an entire range of situations. Bern was known for his dedication and passion for herpetology and conservation, his laid-back easy-going personality, his wonderful sense of humor, and being a good father and grandfather. He was also a great friend to his herpetology buddies who met each spring for over 40 years to search for reptiles at Okeetee. He will be greatly missed by all those who knew him.

Bern Tryon was a co-author of two papers (1, 2) presented at the 1993 Purchase conference on tortoise and turtle conservation, cosponsored by NYTTS, and printed in Proceedings: Conservation, Restoration, and Management of Tortoises and Turtles—An International Conference, published by NYTTS in 1997.

See also Knoxville Zoo’s herpetology director, bog turtle advocate dies,

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