‘Turtle Whisperer’ Turns Poachers Into Allies

article image

A conservationist working to save endangered sea turtles is
taking a counterintuitive approach—he’s befriending the poachers. Alexander
Gaos, dubbed “the turtle
whisperer
” in Conservation
magazine, has found 500 new eastern Pacific hawksbill turtle nesting sites in El
Salvador and Nicaragua by forging ties, and trust, with the local fishermen who
know the terrain better than anyone else.

He tells Conservation:

“These were folks who thought of “conservationists”
as people who got you thrown in jail, got your beach closed, and turned it into
a turtle project. I tried to tell them I was not there to take names, call the
cops, or bag on them for eating turtle eggs. When they asked me whether I ate
turtle eggs, I sometimes told them: “Yes, sure, I’m not going to lie to you.”
Then I’d challenge them, telling them that scientists thought hawksbills were
extinct. They’d say: “No, they’re rare, but still around . . . we’ll take you
out to see them.””

Sometimes cash is part of the equation. In Nicaragua, Gaos’
conservation organization, the Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative, is paying
a fishing cooperative $40 for every nest sight its members protect.

Gaos explains why he makes the effort to work with poachers
and fishermen:

“Because they have already pushed hawksbills very
close to extinction, and they aren’t slowing down. Because there’s just no way
you are going to find your way around those places if you don’t have the locals
helping you.”

Source: Conservation 

Image by chucklepix (Steve),
licensed under Creative Commons.

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