Recognizing the key role of Colombia for the conservation of South American freshwater turtles and tortoises, and the imminent threat that many of these species face, WCS joined efforts with the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) to launch a new program in July 2012. This agreement will expand a model partnership that has already proved effective in Myanmar and China. Colombia is widely recognized as a strategic location for turtle conservation in South America, and with 27 species, is considered one of the world’s turtle diversity hotspots, ranked 6th in species richness with three endemic species (Mesoclemmys dahli, Kinosternon dunni and Podocnemis lewyana). It supports the highest number of chelonian families with seven. However, Colombia’s diverse chelonian fauna is under threat from a range of human mediated factors including consumption and habitat loss and pollution. This pattern follows the global trend, as approximately half of the world's species of freshwater turtles and tortoises are threatened.
The program will implement specific actions identified in the Strategic Plan for the Conservation of Colombian Continental Turtles. One of the primary objectives is to ensure that chelonians are included in higher level discussions regarding new protected areas and the prioritization of species and research areas for funding consideration. Another goal is to expand the potential for turtle conservation work in Colombia through training workshops, both on field research and captive management techniques.
On a species-specific level, the program aims to develop long-term monitoring programs for endemic species considered rare (Dunn’s mud turtle, Kinosternon dunni from Chocó) and endangered (Dahl’s toad-head turtle, Mesoclemmys dahli). A leading priority species is the endemic Magdalena river turtle (Podocnemis lewyana), which is considered Critically Endangered and one of the 25 most threatened turtle species in the planet.