The New York Turtle and Tortoise Society presents

Seminar 2017

Saturday, March 25, 2017
Check-in 9:30 a.m.; Sessions 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.

Sarah Lawrence College Center for the Urban River at Beczak
35 Alexander Street, Yonkers, New York 10701

Seminar 2017 speakers George Heinrich, Paul Calle, and Brendan Reid
Photo by Anita Salzberg

Sarah Lawrence College Center for the Urban River
at Beczak in Yonkers, New York

Seminar 2017 was held at the Sarah Lawrence College Center for the Urban River at Beczak in Yonkers, New York. It is is an easy drive up from the city or down from points in Westchester County. Ample parking is available. It also just two blocks north of the Yonkers Metro North (Hudson River Line) station (see map and train schedules (PDF) (new schedules and fares as of 03/19/2017!).

See Driving Directions to Beczak

Scheduled Program

Morning Session (10:00 a.m.–12:00 noon)

Welcome and Announcements

George L. Heinrich with juvenile Suwannee cooter (Pseudemys concinna suwanniensis). Photo by Ernest C. Simmons

George L. Heinrich
Heinrich Ecological Services, Florida Turtle Conservation Trust,
St. Petersburg, Florida

“Understanding the Geographic Distribution of Turtles
Is Fundamental to Conservation and Management”

Accurate delineation of any species’ range is vital to assuring appro­priate conservation and management efforts. This presentation will review two current distributional surveys of state-listed taxa being conducted in west-central Florida. The first is a biannual gopher tor­toise (Gopherus polyphemus) burrow survey of a fragmented popula­tion (estimate of 137 tortoises) within a city-owned nature preserve. Data collected is being used to guide upland habitat management efforts and to address concerns regarding minimum viable population and minimum reserve size. The second project is a survey of Florida rivers to determine the southern distribution of the Suwannee cooter (Pseudemys concinna suwanniensis). Restricted to rivers that drain into the northeastern Gulf of Mexico along the northwest coast of Flor­ida, the southern distribution and status of this subspecies is un­certain and hence of conservation concern. Recent fieldwork has documented four new rivers and a range extension. Chal­lenges in the field, museums, and office are more than compensated for by opportunities to drive conservation and experience wild Florida. This program will close with a short overview of the Florida Turtle Conservation Trust’s newest initiative, “The Big Turtle Year” (,

George L. Heinrich with an adult gopher tortoise (Gopherus poly­phemus), the first species docu­mented during The Big Turtle Year. Photo by Andrew Farren
which will be occurring throughout the United States during 2017. Long in the planning, this conservation education project will increase awareness regarding the status of these often overlooked and ecologically significant animals.

George L. Heinrich is a field biologist and environmental educator specializing in Florida reptiles. His company, Heinrich Ecological Services, is based in St. Petersburg, Florida and conducts wildlife surveys and research, natural history programming, and nature-based tours. A graduate of Memphis State University, his interests include south­eastern upland, riverine, and brackish wetland ecosystems; conservation challenges fac­ing Florida’s non-marine tur­tles; and the role of education in conserving herpetofauna. Current collaborative research projects focus on three imperiled species: the gopher tor­toise (Gopherus polyphemus), the diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin), and the Suwannee cooter (Pseudemys concinna suwanniensis). George is an invited mem­ber of the IUCN Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group, served twice as co-chair of the Gopher Tortoise Council, and is the executive director of the Florida Turtle Conser­vation Trust.  He has received a number of awards from state and regional NGOs for his conservation and environmental education work, the most recent being from the League of Environmental Educators in Florida—the Golden LEEF Award for Outstand­ing Contribution to Florida Environmental Education. In June 2009 six NYTTS mem­bers joined George’s Florida Turtles Natural History Tour.

— Lunch —

Afternoon Session (2:00–5:00 p.m.)

Brendan Reid with snapping turtle

Brendan N. Reid
Postdoctoral Researcher
American Museum of Natural History, New York City

“Keeping Up with a Changing World,
at a Turtle’s Pace”

For conservation biologists, turtles present a paradox. These unique animals represent one of evolution’s great survivors and have weath­ered mass extinction events in the past; however, in our current age of global change and biodiversity loss, turtles stand out as one of the most highly threatened vertebrate groups. Understanding how turtles have reacted to recent and historical change in their environment will be crucial

Nathan Byer with Blanding’s turtle
to pre­venting the loss of species in the future. In this talk, I will describe several of my research projects, fo­cusing on ongoing field-oriented research on Blanding’s turtles in the Midwest conduc­ted with Nathan Byer, and I will discuss the potential for using informa­tion from ge­nomes to determine turtles’ capacity to adapt to ongoing climate change.

Brendan Reid received his Masters degree from Columbia University in 2009. Dur­ing his time at Columbia, he worked with scientists at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) to create a library of genetic barcodes (short segments of DNA that can be used to identify species) for use in the conservation of turtle species. He then conduc­ted PhD research at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he focused on the ef­fects of habitat change in the endangered Blanding’s turtle. He completed his doctorate in 2015 and returned to the AMNH for a postdoc­toral fellowship. Brendan’s current re­search uses genomic methods to investigate turtles’ historical responses to changes in climate, as well as their potential to adapt to projected future warming.

Paul P. Calle
WCS Chief Veterinarian and Director of the Zoological Health Program
Wildlife Conservation Society, Bronx Zoo, New York City

“Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) Reproduction Update”

Drs. Paul Calle (right) and Liu Lu Shunqing (center) from the Wildlife Con­servation Society examine the sedated male Rafetus during artificial in­semination procedures at the Suzhou Zoo.

Photo Paul P. Calle, WCS
With only three known Yangtze Giant Softshell turtles (Rafetus swinhoei) remaining, two at the Suzhou Zoo in China and one in a lake in Vietnam, the species has the dubious distinction of being the most endangered turtle species on Earth. A conservation effort has been underway since 2008 when the Changsha and Suzhou Zoos, the China Zoo Society, the Turtle Sur­vival Alliance, and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) worked together to move the female from the Changsha Zoo to join the male at the Suzhou Zoo in a last ditch captive breeding effort. Both turtles are esti­mated to be more than 100 years old, and every year since being united they appeared to engage in normal courtship and copulation with the female regularly laying 2–3 clutches of eggs, numbering over 100, an­nually. Unfortunately, despite incubation at different temperatures and in different incubation media, in­cluding eggs left in the natural nest, none have been fertile. The talk will discuss the history of the collab­orative conservation breeding effort for the species, and current artificial insemination efforts.

Paul P. Calle graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, completed intern­ships at Manhattan’s Animal Medical Center and the San Diego Zoo, and was the staff veterinarian at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. He joined the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in 1989 and is the WCS Chief Veterinarian, Direc­tor of the Zoological Health Program, and Vice President for WCS Health Programs. He is based at the Bronx Zoo where he oversees the Clinical, Pathology, and Aquatic Animal Health Departments for WCS’s Zoos and Aquarium and the Wildlife Health Program staff who are based around the world. In addition to administrative responsibilities and medical and surgical care of WCS’s collections, he has participated in local and international field projects in support of WCS’s global conservation mission, including chelonian projects in Russia, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Belize, Guatemala, and Northeastern U.S. He chairs the WCS Institutional Animal Care and Use Commit­tee (IACUC), is a Diplomate in the American College of Zoological Medicine and the European College of Zoo­logical Medicine (Zoo Health Management), a Professional Fellow of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), previ­ous President of the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians (AAZV), committee member of the AZA Animal Health and Field Conservation Committees, and is on the Board of Trustees of Species360. He is a member of the AAZV, the European Association of Zoo and Wildlife Veterinarians, AZA, and the Turtle Survival Alliance.

   Images from Seminar 2017
   Photos by Anita Salzberg

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