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The Turtle Survival Alliance, 10/14, Speaker R. Hudson

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Posted by A Sazlberg on September 28, 2001 at 17:09:32:

The Turtle Survival Alliance, Everyone Has a Role, Speaker Rick Hudson.
Sunday 14 October, 11:00 A.M. at the American Museum of Natural History, NYC.
TSA is probably the first group to actively seek to join herpetologists, zookeepers, breeders and dealers in an effort to save turtles from extinction.

Sponsored by the New York Turtle & Tortoise Society. Enter on 77th Street
between Central Park West and Columbus Avenue (indicate to guard you are
attending the Turtle and Tortoise Society meeting for admission to the

Take mass transit. The C or B (the local) to 81st Street,and just go upstairs) or the 1 or 9 to 79th Street and then walk East to the Museum.)

Following is a brief bio about Mr. Hudson, a description of what the
TSA is, and a newspaper interview with Mr. Hudson as he headed into the world
of turtle conservation from fall 2000.

The brief Bio. . .
Rick Hudson, conservation biologist at the Fort Worth Zoo, is co-chair of the
Turtle Survival Alliance. Rick was the Assistant Reptile Curator for twenty
years before moving to the zoo's Conservation Department. He is best known
for his conservation work with lizards, specifically iguanas: he is chairman
of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) Lizard Advisory Group,
coordinator of the Rock Iguana Species Survival Plan, and deputy-chair of the
IUCN West Indian Rock Iguana Specialist Group.

The Fort Worth Zoos chelonian collection was recently reorganized in response
to the Asian Turtle Crisis, and species Rick is currently working with at the
zoo include Manouria impressa, Cuora pani, Cuora trifasciata, Geoclemys
hamiltonii, Callagur borneoensis, and Geoemyda spengleri. The Fort Worth Zoo
successfully bred Manouria emys phayrei in 1983, and Rick maintains a sizable
group of Manouria e. emys at home. Rick also serves on the steering committee
of the AZA Chelonian Advisory Group, and he organized and chaired the Asian
Turtle Workshop in Fort Worth in January of this year.

The TSA description. . .
An IUCN Partnership Network for Sustainable Captive Management of Freshwater
Turtles and Tortoises: Preserving Options for the Recovery of Wild

The Partners are individuals and institutions who are participating in the
conservation and captive breeding plans for turtle species. Only TSA members,
as defined by the Steering Committee, will be invited to join or accepted as
members of this community.

How to become invloved with the TSA will be a part of Mr. Hudson's
presentation, and those details will be posted in the post meeting NYTTSnews.

The newspaper article. . .
Nights and days of the iguana Rick Hudson, a Fort Worth Zoo herpetologist,
is dedicated to saving the most endangered lizard on Earth

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram - 8/30/2000

Rick Hudson is standing in a cage in the Fort Worth Zoo, staring a Jamaican
iguana right in the eye. The iguana stares back with reptilian calm and
affection, almost as if aware that this is the man who has brought his
species back from the edge of extinction. "I think of myself as a catalyst,"
says Hudson, 46, taking a break from his hands-on work with reptiles and
amphibians. "I rally support, champion causes and catalyze action."

Hudson's affinity for reptiles began during his youth, when he spent his idle
time in the hills near his home in Virginia collecting salamanders, turtles,
frogs and snakes - and testing the patience of his snake-fearing mother.

A boyhood hobby became his profession and passion. Hudson is a nationally
recognized herpetologist (one who studies reptiles and amphibians) based at
the Fort Worth Zoo, who has been working to save the Jamaican iguana, which
has the dubious distinction of being designated the most endangered lizard on

Although Hudson is engaged in preserving life forms that humans have helped
drive to near-extinction, there is still a boyish enthusiasm in his manner
and a sparkle in his eyes when he talks about animal conservation.

"Any time you take a component out of the ecosystem, you don't know what the
consequences will be," he says, adding that the Jamaican iguanas were
dispersers of seed, and the rapidly disappearing Asian turtles - another of
his projects - are already missed for their role as scavengers in areas where
they have disappeared.

But, he adds, it's more than just a practical issue.

"It's a moral issue," he says. "We're in a rapid extinction process. These
species are here for a reason, and man doesn't have the right to cause the
extinction of another species. And we have the resources to stop these

Hudson's obsession for the reptile is well known to his co- workers in Fort
Worth and in the national zoological community.

"You can't help catching his passion for the project," says Fort Worth Zoo
Executive Director Gregg Hudson, who is not related to Rick. "He's always
preaching for the program."

Another colleague at the Fort Worth Zoo, conservation science manager Tarren
Wagener, says:

"His work is undoubtedly one of the most significant programs of the AZA
[American Zoo and Aquarium Association]. He was there at the beginning of the
project. We have the resources here in Fort Worth to be able to make a
difference. There's a committee of us here who examine and question very
closely where we spend our money."

Hudson - a graduate of Blue Ridge Community College and the University of
Richmond - achieved his boyhood dream of working in a zoo when he came to
Fort Worth as assistant reptile curator in 1980. He had previously had an
internship at the Baltimore Zoo. With zoo support, he became involved in
efforts to preserve certain crocodilians by breeding them in captivity.

But it wasn't until 1993 that Hudson developed his interest in iguanas, first
working with an endangered species in the British Virgin Islands. He soon
focused on the Jamaican iguana and the special problems of preserving a
species on a large island with a vulnerable environment.

Unlike some endangered animals, Jamaican iguanas, which as adults measure
about 4 feet from tip of tail to tip of nose, respond well to efforts at

"You can go in and save these iguanas with minimal resources," Hudson says.
The near-extinction of the Jamaican iguana, one of 16 species and subspecies
of iguanas in the West Indies, came about through the introduction of the
Asian mongoose, a small carnivorous mammal brought to Jamaica to control cane
rats in the 1870s.

This proved to be a huge mistake: The rats are nocturnal, the mongooses
diurnal (active in the daytime), and they hardly ever met up with each other.
And, as is often the case, the introduction of a foreign species gravely
undermined the ecosystem.

The mongoose turned out to be a severe problem for native wildlife in
Jamaica, particularly for iguanas, which, during the first five years or so
of their 35- to 40-year lifespan, are regarded by the mongoose as easy prey
and a tasty meal. In the 1940s, the Jamaican iguana was declared extinct, and
none were identified by a human being for several decades.

In 1990, however, a dog belonging to pig hunter Edwin Duffus chased an iguana
into a hollow log. Duffus fortunately recognized the value of the animal, and
reported his find to zoologists in Jamaica.

According to Hudson, Duffus became "a pig hunter turned conservationist."
Duffus now works to persuade the local charcoal burners, who destroy iguana
habitat by burning timber to produce charcoal for sale as fuel, to stay out
of an area set aside as an iguana preserve.

"A successful conservation effort has to have a local population that cares,"
Hudson says. "We have motivated, caring people in Jamaica."

Hudson travels to Jamaica frequently for hands-on work in the program, often
camping in the wooded Hellshire Hills south and west of Kingston.

Because young iguanas are most vulnerable to the mongoose, Hunter and his
colleagues use what he calls a "head-start" program, nurturing iguanas that
are taken from nests as hatchlings, then turned loose around the age of 5.
They are monitored with smartly designed radio transmitters on their backs,
carried in specially made backpacks courtesy of Nike Corp. The wild iguanas
that don't have backpacks apparently don't have any aversion to interacting
with the fashionably outfitted, previously captive iguanas.

According to Hunter, iguanas raised in early captivity are "hardwired" - that
is, they take to life in the wild without special training, and mix readily
with wild iguanas. In 1998, the program reached a watershed when a
"head-start" female produced offspring in the wild.

In a more controlled environment, such as a smaller island, there might be a
reasonable attempt to eradicate the predatory mongoose. On a larger island
such as Jamaica, Hudson can't completely eliminate the mongoose, but can
encourage control of mongooses, as well as the charcoal burners, within the
designated wild area where the iguana is being re-established. And, on Great
Goat Island off the southeast coast of Jamaica, Hudson and his colleagues
have established an area free of the mongoose, thus enhancing the Jamaican
iguana's chance for survival.

The Fort Worth Zoo pays Hudson's salary and the salary of some support staff
while he works on the project, even when he is in Jamaica. But it is not a
costly project, which makes a difference.

"As a nonprofit organization, we have to be aware of the results of spending
our dollars," Gregg Hudson says. "With this project, we see tangible

Michael Hutchins, director of conservation and science at the American Zoo
and Aquarium Association headquarters in Silver Spring, Md., says Hudson has
"been tenacious in saving the Jamaican iguana. Rick led the pack."

Hutchins adds that Hudson's work is something that Fort Worth can be proud of
- and has an obligation to support.

"The Fort Worth Zoo displays wild animals, and has a moral obligation to
contribute to the conservation of these species," he says. "Zoos have an
incredibly important role in conservation today, including actively
preserving endangered species."

Although the Jamaican iguana is Hudson's primary focus right now, he's also
involved in trying to save the Asian turtle, although the outlook is less
promising. Prized for food and medicinal purposes, the many varieties and
subspecies of that animal are being threatened by market demands in China.
The Fort Worth Zoo will host an Asian Turtle Workshop in January to propagate
the turtle and exchange ideas for preserving it in captivity - at zoos,
abandoned hatcheries and, in this case, with private individuals who can
provide an appropriate environment for the turtles. Hudson will be at the
forefront of that movement as well.
"The people of Fort Worth can be very proud," Hutchins says. "Your program at
the Fort Worth Zoo has global significance."

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