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World-Renowned Turtle Conservationist Dr. Peter Pritchard Dies

Orlando resident and world-renowned turtle and tortoise conservationist Dr. Peter C.H. Pritchard died on February 25, 2020. His life was marked by a 50-year legacy of global conservation.

Dr. Pritchard was best known as an authority on the biology and conservation of turtles and tortoises. Founder of the Chelonian Research Institute (CRI) in Oviedo, Florida, his work took him to more than 100 countries where he conducted extensive field work with turtles on all continents and many remote islands. He established a permanent field station for turtle conservation in northwestern Guyana. Four species of turtle are named after him – a snakeneck turtle from New Guinea, a pond turtle from northern Burma, a giant fossil sideneck turtle from Colombia and an adult male green turtle from the Carr Refuge in Florida. He was recognized as a “Champion of the Wild” by the Discovery Channel and as “Hero of the Planet” by TIME Magazine. He was also declared “Floridian of the Year” by the Orlando Sentinel and “Hometown Hero” by the Orlando International Airport.

IMG 1877 2Dr. Pritchard was a recipient of the Turtle Conservancy’s Conservation Achievement Award; a Southeast Regional Sea Turtle Hall of Fame inductee; and a recipient of the Sea Turtle Society’s Kemp’s Ridley Research Award for his extensive research on this endangered species of sea turtles, considered the smallest sea turtle species in the world. His industry distinction of having dual expertise in sea turtles and tortoises and freshwater turtles resulted in being the only industry figure to be awarded both the prestigious John Behler Award for turtle conservation and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Sea Turtle Society. In 2017, he was presented the Archie F. Carr medal from the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida. He was fluent in Spanish and French and is published in both of those languages. He authored 14 books, most notably “The Encyclopedia of Turtles.”

“Peter Pritchard and I were within 6 days of sharing the same birthday. More importantly, we shared a passion for all manner of turtles including sea turtles, terrapins and tortoises,” said Chelonian Research Institute Board Chairman and longtime friend Rob Truland. “Peter was the scholar, the explorer, the collector and author whereas my role was to support his endeavors. Through the Chelonian Research Institute and the loyal support of their generous board, Peter’s influence and projects stretched globally. As of last year, he and I had known each other for 40 years. If you are lucky enough to have known one great man in your lifetime, you are lucky enough.”

IMG 0502Dr. Pritchard developed the concept of conservation without confrontation, finding common ground with local communities and governments through mutual education to establish lasting environmental changes. He applied these techniques both in Florida and around the world and was invited by the governments of nations ranging from Trinidad and Tobago to Papua, New Guinea to develop socially sensitive programs for wildlife conservation. In Mexico in the 1980s, he engaged in a series of dialogues with the proprietor and owner of a major marine turtle slaughterhouse and international industry in turtle products who was identified by many as being beyond the conservation ethic. These exchanges resulted in the individual leaving the industry and ultimately to the closure of the operation.

He is credited with the rescue of Kemp’s Ridley species of turtles in Mexico, resulting in a 20-year increase of the species’ population. He created the first nesting beach patrol effort, which later was adopted and expanded by the Mexican government and US conservation agencies.

Dr. Pritchard also worked with the Arawak people of Guyana for many years, instilling a more protective attitude toward the wildlife species, especially marine turtles, upon which they depend. This project attracted international attention and was described in the National Geographic book Hidden Worlds of Wildlife. It was also featured in a special for the Paris television network Canal Plus (shown widely in Europe). The Guyana conservation program resulted in Dr. Pritchard being selected as a featured conservationist for the Canadian television series Champions of the Wild, shot on-site in Guyana, and aired extensively in Canada, the US, and the UK. As a continued credit to his influence in Guyana, Dr. Pritchard obtained the support of then Prime Minister, the Honorable Sam Hinds, in the conservation effort and established an on-going partnership with the Arawak community for conservation education. Both he and the prime minister became patrons of the Sea Turtle Protection Society in Guyana. This project is one of the longest-standing sustainable conservation programs in the world. He became a board member and co-patron with the prime minister and other influential professionals of the Guyana Marine Turtle Conservation Society. He also maintained projects in Vietnam and China, focused on conservation of the world’s largest and rarest softshell turtle.

He is best known for his work in the Galapagos Islands and was featured extensively in a BBC4 television production about the area and its giant male Pinta Island Tortoise, Lonesome George, the last known individual of the subspecies, noted as the rarest creature in the world. Dr. Pritchard was among the first scholars to discover the tortoise; was the only industry professional with rare video footage of it in its habitat; and as a member of the research team, facilitated its discovery in the Galapagos Islands.

IMGP9635 2CRI’s collection of turtle and tortoise specimens contains 14,500 specimens, the most comprehensive in existence, with 100% of genera and about 95% of living species being represented. The Institute operates without sacrifice of live animals.

He resided in Oviedo, Florida, in the Orlando area, and is survived by his wife Sibille Hart Pritchard, two adult sons, Sebastian and Cameron, and was preceded in death by son Dominic.

“For 50 years, Peter has been my partner, my strength and my soulmate,” said his wife Sibille Hart Pritchard. “The influence he’s had on colleagues, students and friends is a testament to his brilliance as a scientist and his kindness as a man. The lives he touched and the difference he made in the world of environmental conservation made our home here in Florida a global gathering place where people from all over the world became part of our lives. Together, we’ve had an amazing journey, raised three incredible men and shared experiences of a lifetime.”

He established an immense legacy and leaves family, friends, a global community of scientists, researchers and turtle enthusiasts to honor the indelible impression he’s made on the world through his life’s work.

A date will soon be announced for a tribute celebration.

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