The Shirt Off My Back

Master Wildlife Artist Carel Brest van Kempen's Browsing Radiated Tortoise.

Each year, a dedicated group of about 200 people from around the globe meets at the annual Turtle Survival Alliance* (TSA) conference. The three-day conference has become THE annual meeting for all those interested in conserving freshwater turtles and tortoises. In reality, this is a small conference; it is nothing at all like the giant spectacle that is COMICON (San Diego’s annual conference on all things fantasy and science fiction). Nevertheless, the TSA conference is the largest meeting of scientists, students, zoo-based biologists, and hobbyists who have a deep passion for turtles.

I eagerly await this conference each year. It is a time for me to see old friends, meet new, like-minded people, and become re-energized for another year in the “trenches,” our continual struggle to save the rarest of the rare turtles with very limited resources. Although there are approximately 300 species of freshwater turtles and tortoises in the world, the vast majority of conservation dollars go to save the seven marine species; hence, every penny we can raise at the conference for conservation action is incredibly important.

This brings me to my newest role as a conservation biologist—one that I never envisioned having: I have become the auctioneer at TSA’s annual charity auction. I’m not sure how this happened, perhaps when the conference organizers heard me say that I would sell the shirt off my back to make sure that there are zero turtle extinctions in my lifetime. I guess you need to be careful what you say around turtle biologists that are short on cash!

It is not an easy thing to “entertain” a crowded room of people all while trying to get them to pay exorbitant prices on turtle-themed items. Last year, by using a fair amount of self-deprecating humor, I was, for example, able to sell a turtle-print sarong for $125, a turtle-shaped woman’s purse for almost $200, and a fossil tortoise shell for $500. The whole auction was a lot of fun and a chance for me to be a bit of a stand-up comedian, all while raising over $10,000 for TSA’s field conservation programs.

This year I will reprise my role as auctioneer in the hopes of bringing in even more conservation dollars. TSA has been donated an original piece of incredible artwork depicting a radiated tortoise valued at well over $10,000 by Carel Brest van Kempen, a master painter of the Society of Animal Artists. This is a unique opportunity to own a true masterpiece. Funds raised from its auction will directly benefit future freshwater turtle and tortoise research and conservation efforts. For those of us who aren’t big spenders, there will be limited edition prints available through the Turtle Survival Alliance.

If you are interested in freshwater turtle and tortoise conservation, I strongly encourage you to attend TSA’s conference, being held in Orlando, Florida, from August 16 to 19, 2010. Details…

I’m already practicing my newest jokes and a new, catchy way of saying “SOLD!”

Brian Horne is a conservation research postdoctoral fellow with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read his previous post, Studying Tortoises in Madagascar.

*The San Diego Zoo has been contributing partner of the TSA since its inception, and the TSA has been an active partner in the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research’s conservation project on the red-crowned roof turtle in India.

3 Responses to The Shirt Off My Back

  1. Wow, seems like a very interesting job! I wish I could attend but I start school. Keep up the fundraising and good luck!

  2. Hey Brian, Chan and I won’t be attending the TSA meeting this year, but I hope you get to raise lots of money! 😀

  3. The meeting and auction were a huge success. We raised almost $17,000!

    Moderator’s note: Congratulations, Brian!