GWC Associate Conservation Scientist Peter Paul van Dijk is a bona fide “turtle man” and now he has a fitting accolade to go with the title. At a banquet during the annual Symposium on Conservation and Biology of Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles last night, August 9, van Dijk received the prestigious Behler Turtle Conservation Award for his unwavering and long-standing commitment to the planet’s chelonians.
“Peter Paul is a walking encyclopedia of turtle biology, taxonomy, and conservation, and is both a critically important resource and leader for the global turtle conservation community, having focused a large portion of his efforts on improving regulatory aspects of the unsustainable global turtle trade,” said Anders Rhodin, chairman of the Turtle Conservancy’s board and co-founder of the Behler Turtle Conservation Award. “More than that, he is also a close and trusted friend and highly respected colleague. We are honored to present him with this well-deserved award.”
The list of accomplishments that make van Dijk the perfect recipient of this award goes on and on…and on and on and on. He has spent a quarter-century dedicated to turtle science and conservation through several organizations and efforts. From the award committee on some of van Dijk’s work:
“Peter Paul has written numerous proposals to include freshwater species under international trade supervision provided by CITES, seen those proposals through to adoption, and has worked tirelessly to make the best of existing legislative protection opportunities for turtles. He has led efforts to expand Red List coverage of tortoises and freshwater turtles, identifying priority species and priority areas for conservation action and partnership with country programs and like-minded NGOs and governments to design and deliver conservation action for turtle populations in the wild, almost worldwide.”
Currently van Dijk is focused on restoring native habitat and in-situ conservation through his work with GWC and Turtle Conservancy. He sits on the board of the Turtle Conservation Fund and has been deputy chair of the IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Specialist Group (TFTSG) since 2000. Though much of his work nowadays is done behind a computer, he has seen more than 80 turtle species in the wild during his time in the field.
“Peter Paul is undeniably a hero in the world of turtle conservation,” said Wes Sechrest, GWC chief scientist and CEO. “He has the passion and commitment that is critical to preventing the sixth mass extinction. We are proud to have him leading the battle to protect tortoises and freshwater turtles and eager to see how his continued work helps ensure that our wild world stays that way.”
This year marks the 12th annual Behler Turtle Conservation Award, which was established in 2006 by Anders Rhodin and Rick Hudson to honor excellence, outstanding contributions, and leadership in the international chelonian conservation and biology community. The award is named after the late John L. Behler, former curator of herpetology at the Bronx Zoo, co-chair of the TFTSG, and founding member of both the Turtle Survival Alliance and the Turtle Conservation Fund.
“The Behler Turtle Conservation Award is the highest honor that the tortoise and freshwater turtle conservation community can bestow,” van Dijk said. “To be awarded this award, and join the inspirational turtle heroes awarded before, is humbling as well as an occasion to reflect on the challenges and opportunities ahead for turtles and their conservation.”
Turtles are among the most threatened groups of animals on the planet. More than half of their 300+ species are threatened with extinction, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The primary threats to their survival include habitat alteration, degradation and destruction; collection for food, pets and/or medicinal use; introduction of invasive species; and introduction and facilitation of the spread of diseases.
“Despite problems concerning turtles, there are success stories,” Behler once said. “These have been long, arduous affairs, and for the most part, they have been the work of extraordinarily dedicated individuals, not legions of bureaucrats. The turtle wars will be fought and won by individual ‘turtle men’ and ‘turtle women’ who are divine missions from the chelonian gods to save their species.”
So congrats to GWC’s very own, very impressive “turtle man!”
The Behler Turtle Conservation Award is co-presented by the Turtle Survival Alliance, TFTSG, Turtle Conservancy and Turtle Conservation Fund. In addition to GWC, the award’s co-sponsors include Conservation International, Turtle Conservancy, TFTSG, Chelonian Research Foundation, Wildlife Conservation Society, Turtle Conservation Fund, Surprise Spring Foundation, Turtle Survival Alliance, George Meyer and Maria Semple, Brett and Nancy Stears and Deb Behler.
(Top photo by Steven Ives)