Let's all give a warm welcome to the newest member of the Turtle Conservancy Team, Thomas Owens! Tommy has come to us after 17 years at the San Diego Zoo, and is now the TC's curator and director of regional field programs. He will be leading our effort to conserve the Southern Western Pond Turtle!
As a kid Tommy was fortunate to live near a large swamp in Northern Virginia that had active beavers so the habitat was very diverse. Lots of species diversity, including species richness in reptiles, amphibians, and yes that included turtles. While attending the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, he was fortunate enough to be accepted as an intern and then an independent study as a Senior which all involved chelonians. His mentor was Bern Tryon who absolutely believed that reptile zoo keepers were different. They appreciated the environment as a complex system that involved all taxa of plant and animal. This was instilled in Tommy as a young college student.
Then, for the next 6 years Bern helped Tommy understand the fragile ecosystem of the Bog turtle. This species range extension and knowledge of their existence in Tennessee is entirely due to zoo keepers. Soon, his thirst for knowledge led him to uproot and move to southern California where the culture shock was only equaled to the reptile and amphibian diversity 12 months of the year.
Donald Boyer was the curator and a strong influence on this move. Not only a brilliant herpetologist, but a person who is also known as a great turtle biologist. So, he spent the next 17 years at the San Diego Zoo. He started studying western pond turtles on weekends and even doing radio telemetry with his then less than a year old son strapped to his back. Tommy initiated a project in San Diego County along with USGS to study western pond turtle recovery. After a decade, that study is still active.