The Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) was formed in 2001 as "an IUCN partnership for sustainable captive management of freshwater turtles and tortoises." The TSA arose in response to the rampant and unsustainable harvest of Asian turtle populations to supply Chinese markets, a situation known as the Asian Turtle Crisis. Recognizing that some species of turtles and tortoises were unlikely to survive without well-managed populations, the TSA was charged with developing breeding programs for the most critically endangered of the world's chelonian species.
For seven years, the TSA functioned within the IUCN (World Conservation Union) structure, recognized as a task force of the Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group (TFTSG). With branches in Europe and the U.S., the TSA organized a diverse partnership involving zoos and aquariums, universities, private breeders and serious hobbyists, veterinarians, conservation NGOs, range country turtle facilities and turtle rescue organizations. That diversity is one of the TSA's core strengths and has allowed the development of a global network of linked breeding programs, known as Assurance Colonies. The TSA has attained recognition for its ability to build partnerships with government regulatory authorities and to help move otherwise doomed, illegally traded, and confiscated turtles and tortoises into programs designed to prevent their extinction. Assurance Colonies are organized both in situ (in the range country) or ex situ (outside the range country) and are crucial to preventing the extinction of many species, some of which have already been lost in nature.
Since its inception, the TSA had been managed by a Steering Committee appointed by the TSA Co-Chairs, Rick Hudson and Dwight Lawson, PhD. The SC collectively made all decisions regarding animal management, public relations, marketing and finance. In 2005, the TSA sought nonprofit status to allow more effective handling of finances, and created the TSA Foundation, a 501(c)(3) registered in the State of Texas. The TSA is based at the Fort Worth Zoo which, over the years has supported the only paid staff including President, Rick Hudson, as well as a record keeper and a membership coordinator. Because of the success of its conservation programs around the world, the TSA found itself in need of full-time staff in order to maintain our current rate of growth and meet the urgent conservation issues facing turtles and tortoises. Having stretched the limits of volunteerism as far as possible, the TSA needed to be better positioned financially and gain greater visibility within the international donor community. To facilitate a fresh approach the decision was made in 2008 to adopt a more corporate structure with a formal Board of Directors, and a consultant was hired to guide this process.
A dedicated, financially savvy Board of Directors was selected in January 2009 that sets policy based upon strategic planning input from an Advisory Committee. The Advisory Committee is international and represents the broad diversity of interests and experience in the TSA membership, including the IUCN TFTSG, Wildlife Conservation Society, Turtle Conservation Fund, Conservation International, Zoological Society of San Diego, European Assn. of Zoos and Aquariums, Behler Chelonian Center, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Chelonia Enterprises, Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden, and Villages des Tortues (SOPTOM). This team of experts will assure that the TSA is well informed and strategically positioned to have immediate and long lasting impacts on turtle conservation. In April 2009, the Board of Directors approved the creation of a Program Coordinator position and Heather Lowe, MS, was hired to provide administrative support to the organization full-time.
TSA policy is implemented through Executive Director (Scott Davis, PhD) and staff. The Executive Director manages a series of Standing Committees staffed by specialized subsets of the membership, including: Animal Management (ex situ conservation), Field Conservation (in situ conservation), and Annual Conference (the premier global meeting for turtle and tortoise experts). All TSA committees, the Field Conservation Committee in particular, have broad global representation from the turtle conservation community and from all the major turtle diversity hotspots.
Today, the organization's niche is working in range countries where endangered chelonian species occur, developing the capacity for turtle conservation through training and capacity building, and generally emphasizing programs with a captive component (headstarting, captive breeding, and rescue). Today, the TSA is the only conservation NGO committed solely to turtle conservation, and operates under a singular, overarching commitment: zero turtle extinctions in the 21st century. Since forming, the TSA has become recognized as a global force for turtle conservation, capable of taking swift and decisive action on behalf of critically endangered chelonians. Although the TSA was organized in response to the Asian Turtle Crisis, the group is well positioned to respond to other endangered turtle species, particularly where a managed breeding component is included in their overall survival strategy. While the turtle extinction crisis remains most acute in Southeast Asia, the situation is actually global in scope. In recent years, the number of turtle species added to the IUCN Red List as Endangered has more than doubled and that number will continue to grow as the Red Listing process is applied to species in Africa and South America.