Guest speaker Will Espenshade - Show & Tell of Unique Turtles and Tortoises
My life has been a long and bumpy road, I’m glad to have shared it with so many chelonians
As a very young child, about 3 or 4, I had two red-ear sliders and two reeves turtles in a plastic bowl with a plastic palm tree and they were fed hamburger on a toothpick. My parents ‘disappeared’ their enclosure and deaths when I wasn’t looking, they knew I had become very attached in a short time. Later in my pre-teens I got to work for my Aunt and Uncle’s pet shop, my Aunt’s love for turtles was overly represented in that pet shop, and in her own animals at home.
As a slightly older preteen I would go the meeting of the Bay Area turtle and Tortoise Society, sometimes catching rides with older friends I could talk into the adventure some 50 miles away from home to Berkeley where the meeting were held. I found myself at this age wondering about the future of turtles in the wild. The pivotal awareness came from a manipulation of water reservoirs in Marin County CA.
Several reservoirs were drained during the fall of one year to prompt voters to pass a bond to support more reservoirs, unfortunately that winter provided little rain and several stabile populations of western pond turtles were disrupted. One member of that turtle club decided to solicit people who had to idle their swimming pools to keep the turtles for a year, until rain returned and the turtles could be returned to their reservoirs. My small role was to tag the turtles for follow-up. My typical teen interest led me to cute girls and fast cars, California living at its teen best, but no follow-up on those turtles.
During that same period early teens I had amassed a reasonable collection of pet turtles including what are now multi $$ thousand exotics as well as common domestic species. That collection was given away too many people as the cars, girls, a swim team, Boy Scouts and working odd jobs around my high school schedule took over. My Eagle project was to put a cattle exclusion fence up around the Fairfield Osborne Nature preserve in Sonoma County, there was/is a large population of western pond turtles there.
An initial interest to pursue zoology in college was dismissed by both academic advisers and family. Undergraduate college was a ‘no pet turtle’ or turtle conservation period of my life. Fast forward to post college, with a mishmash of schooling that ended with a degree in Agricultural Production. I became a volunteer at what is now the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, and had a great time being in that Reptile house with some truly unique and wonderful herps. A few turtles started coming back into my home around then, somehow like a pathogen or passion, the turtle interest was re-rooted into my life.
Some work related to animals husbandry in farming transitioned into an actual job at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo after enough volunteer hours added up to the requisite experience. At about the same time, I with a few others, founded the San Joaquin Herpetological society. The SJHS was a big instant success, still pre-internet; it was the go to place for people with a herp interest.
That’s where I met Yvonne who I now think of as my ‘turtle wife’. However I ended up going to the Philadelphia Zoo, and again, the collection of animals was paired down and Yvonne became a life saver for me, keeping many of the turtles and tortoises until I could sort things out.
Casa Del Prado