Reptile Conservation International, Inc. (RCI) is a not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization dedicated to the conservation and restoration of endangered reptiles. The health and reproduction of reptiles is profoundly affected by the environment, making reptiles vulnerable to environmental perturbations. Because the temperature at which eggs develop determines whether the embryos become male or female, even small temperature fluctuations can profoundly alter the sex ratio of a species. Similarly, hormones such as estrogens, and chemicals that can mimic or block estrogens (often called endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs), can change the sex ratio of a clutch. Thus, temperature and climate change, contamination by EDCs, and other environmental factors, can influence the survival of reptile species.
Dr. David Crews founded RCI in 1992 based on his discovery that the application of minuscule amounts of estrogen to a turtle or gecko egg greatly skewed the sex ratio towards females. This finding was subsequently extrapolated to endangered reptile species in order to increase populations of breeding females. Crews’ method proved effective in three threatened and endangered reptiles: the Olive Ridley sea turtle, the freshwater Cagle’s map turtle, and the New Caledonian gecko. It was also was used successfully in the commercially-farmed muggers crocodile. It is a “low-tech, low-cost” method, as $25 of estrogen is sufficient to treat 250,000 eggs! RCI is presently working with conservation programs in Mexico and Brazil.
The RCI Box Turtle Project began in September, 2018 with the arrival of several dozen Eastern Box Turtles (Terrapene carolina carolina). These turtles were confiscated by US Fish & Wildlife at JFK airport from smugglers attempting to illegally export them. The turtles now reside in a fenced 50 x 100 foot enclosure, equipped with a freshwater pond, trees and shrubbery, lots of leaf litter and rocky shelter, and their very own worm farm!
In spring, 2020, RCI expects arrival of 15 Texas Gopher Tortoises (Gopherus berlandieri). These animals were illegally removed from the wild or were owner surrenders, often by people who did not realize the amount of care required for an animal that needs a large habitat and can live for 60 years. The males will be housed individually to minimize male-male aggression. The females will live in a large communal habitat. The tortoises are going to be observed for their mate choice behavior.