Rest in Peace Dr. Peter Pritchard

Although turtles and tortoises are commonly associated with being slow or taking things slow, I constantly find myself always being in a rush even though my life is literally centered on these animals. It is a race to move from one task to another in order to complete a day’s work and I rarely take time even to think…but today I stopped in my tracks as I learned early this morning of the passing of Dr. Peter Pritchard. That got me to stop and think…deeply.

As perhaps the world’s most iconic turtle biologist and perhaps even the very symbol of chelonian conservation, Dr. Pritchard did more than just touch the minds and hearts of turtle lovers – he gave hope, enthusiasm, and a future to many of us who wanted to spend our lives fighting for them in one way or another. In media from books to documentaries, his impact and passion are clearly on display for all of us worldwide.

One thing I always wanted to do was visit his Chelonian Research Institute (CRI) and just maybe be lucky enough to shake his hand. I was luckier than I ever expected and was able to spend an entire day with him at the CRI alongside my wife and best friend, Casey. I have been able to meet major celebrities and have even shared the stage with some through my music endeavors, but meeting Dr. Pritchard was different. This experience was not about being in the same room with someone so exemplary or recognizable, it was about looking at a man who fought for a group of animals he so passionately wanted to save. Dr. Pritchard left behind not just a career of work, but a legacy of education and conservation; a legacy the rest of us can appreciate, learn from, grow from, and hold onto as we press on continuing similar work.

Turtles and tortoises have taken a tremendous beating throughout the years with several species on the front lines of possible extinction. Every one of us who takes our job seriously has pushed forward in creating awareness regarding the growing issues these animals face and many of us learned from Dr. Pritchard. As we walked around the CRI, I found myself growing quiet because it was nearly impossible to absorb the sheer volume of knowledge and history that filled the house. Dr. Pritchard moved from room to room, from shelf to shelf, showing us shells from various deceased specimens he had collected over the years, each with a story. Some eaten after being sold in markets while others lived their lives out to a natural completion and were sent to CRI for cataloging and/or display.

We had a laugh about a giant male Marginated Tortoise I was housing and how he may have been of record size. Dr. Pritchard said he would like to have his shell to display in the event the animal would one day die. For me the most memorable moment was watching Casey and Dr. Pritchard spend time together talking about alligator snapping turtles. The two talked and talked while leaning over a massive tank he kept in a back room, which housed four large specimens. He seemed to be very comfortable around her and there was something so wonderful about listening to a man who has become a true historian on the subject take the time to share with a younger generation. The turtles in the tank were used to seeing people lean over and expected food as they peered out of the water making eye contact with Casey and Dr. Pritchard. As those dinosaurs stared back, I thought, “Imagine if those animals had any idea of who they were looking at. Their caretaker is literally the world’s leading turtle supreme!”

Our illustrious tour guide took us on an adventure even though we remained within the same piece of property as we learned more and more about his work and got to experience impressive animals, both those in the flesh and those now since passed. Dr. Pritchard’s incredible journey around our globe all in the name of chelonian conservation was undeniably overwhelming and extraordinary. I found myself exhausted by the end of the day even though all I did was listen.

I think about that visit a lot and I sometimes doubt myself, as I could not imagine living up to Dr. Pritchard’s standards or accomplishing even a fraction of what he has. However, the reality is, like him, we are working, we are fighting, we are making this our lives. And most importantly, we are still learning. Education is and always will be paramount for uniting our world in the struggle to save turtles, or any precious wildlife for that matter. Dr. Pritchard taught us that through self-denying acts of teaching about the importance these creatures have and their place on this planet. (The never-ending nature of his teaching is why theTurtleRoom presented him with the first ChelEd Award for Lifetime Achievement in Chelonian Education in 2015.)

Perhaps fighting for a group of animals who have absolutely no feelings or emotion toward a human is the most selfless act one can perform. We have truly lost a superhero and a pivotal voice in turtle conservation and preservation; but as the saying goes, “nothing gold can stay.” We must remember that we all have voices and continue to use them to educate our world about the plight of chelonians and the people and organizations working around the clock to change their fate. As zoologists, conservationists, preservationists, biologists, teachers, and every day turtle enthusiasts, we absolutely have to carry on and keep Dr. Pritchard’s legacy alive for generations to come.

From the depth of our hearts, thank you Peter. We’ll do our best to take it from here.

Chris Leone
Director of Animal Husbandry

Click here to read more about the late Dr. Pritchard’s chelonian-filled life.

Read about another trip to the beloved Chelonian Research Institute.


WTN Editor

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