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World Chelonian Trust Newsletter Chair / Trustee
Paula Morris didn't know a turtle from a tortoise until 1988. They were not among the animals she'd spent the better part of her life rescuing and rehabbing. But she was offered a California Desert tortoise hatchling (Gopherus agassizii) being carried around in a light bulb box by two boys; she felt compelled to get that strange little creature away from them because they were handling it like a toy and the hatchling was in distress.
After a crash course in tortoise husbandry from a Simi Valley veterinarian specializing in reptiles, she became hooked on chelonians. Like anyone who dives headfirst into a hobby, she immersed herself in the local club as their newsletter editor, bought books, swapped newsletters with groups around the country, and participated in events.
Her patient spouse finally reminded her that charity begins at home, so she gave up the clubs but continued by producing her own newsletter for ten years that provided a forum for keepers' experiences with their own turtles. Prior to the internet, newsletters were among the best ways to learn practical turtle care from others.
A watershed moment for Paula came on a field trip with the local club to the Desert Tortoise Natural Area in the Mojave Desert. There, a naturalist guided the group around for a day and brought the desert-a bleak place at first sight-to life for her. She saw Desert tortoises going about their lives with no fences and no interference from humans. Compared to the turtles and tortoises victimized by the pet trade, the contrast had tremendous impact upon her. She likes to think that it was this event that got her pointed away from the idea of turtles as pets towards the bigger picture: awareness of the need for the protection, conservation, and a coherent propagation effort by private keepers of turtle species worldwide.
She learned some rehabbing skills from several mentors (including the legendary Max and Lillian Greene and Donna Friedmann) and eventually became known as a local receiver for animals that were either sick or no longer wanted by their owners. She discovered that the pet trade often misidentified the turtles they sold and gave little-if any-guidance on their proper care, so she started offering a series of care sheets to local businesses to hand out with each purchase. Paula feels her experience as a typographer and graphic designer was her main contribution to getting turtle-related information out to the public in those early years. Between her own articles and those from clubs and organizations nationwide, who allowed her to use their material, a lot of good information made it to venues it might not have otherwise.
Through networking with other turtle keepers she was able to forward individual healthy animals to larger groups of their own kind, believing that the chance for captive reproduction would improve if the animals were kept in colonies that provided adequate space for natural behaviors. Box turtles, arguably the most exploited of the American species in the pet trade, were welcomed into her care, and they form the bulk of her collection.
Paula's the editor for the World Chelonian Trust newsletter. She likes to photograph, write about, and draw her shelled charges. She has a small tee shirt business called Turtles To a Tee that features her own designs, and for the last six years has captively-propagated Kinixys belliana belliana (Bell's hingeback) and Malacochersus tornieri (Pancake) tortoises.
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