The world’s turtles and tortoises (collectively called chelonians) are in big trouble; they need our help more than ever in their struggle to survive. These animals are quickly losing their habitat and being snatched up – often illegally – from countries around the globe to feed China’s insatiable appetite for rare and endangered animals. In celebration of World Turtle Day on May 23rd, I would like to take a moment to tell you about the Houston Zoo’s Senior Herpetology Keeper, Chris Bednarski. – I don’t know anyone more dedicated to chelonian conservation than he is.
At the zoo, Chris is our resident freshwater turtle and tortoise expert – he has successfully bred many of the species we have on and off exhibit and he regularly attends and presents at the Turtle Survival Alliance annual conference. In addition, Chris has been a part of numerous conservation efforts and is currently working on a conservation project proposal that will help protect imperiled turtles and tortoises in SE Asia.
But his work doesn’t stop there… most chelonian species need a good amount of space to thrive, and Chris has dedicated his entire backyard for that very purpose.
He and his wife, Dani, searched high and low for a house (and yard!) specifically to accommodate their turtle and tortoise collection. They’ve built three large greenhouses on their property so that they can keep even tropical species outdoors year-round and have taken great care to landscape with edible plants to provide variety and enrichment for the physical and mental health of all of their shelled friends.
Chris has been a voice for turtle conservation for 20 years, getting his start working with Spotted Turtles in his native Rhode Island, moving on to the University of Florida and then the Maryland Zoo before coming to Houston in 2007. His enthusiasm is contagious and he enjoys educating Houston Zoo visitors about these fascinating animals any chance he gets; if you’re lucky you might catch him at the Galapagos Tortoise Yard behind Duck Lake at feeding time! And if he’s not there, he’s probably traveling the world photographing turtles… Thank you Chris, on behalf of all the chelonians of the world, for your passion and undying dedication!
Want to learn more about how you can help turtles? Click here!