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© Turtle Island 2022

Our team

Together with our international network of partner organisations and supporters, we are working to save the most endangered vertebrate group on our planet – turtles. Our team consists of a large number of experts who deal with all topics related to conservation as well as keeping of endangered turtles.

EXECUTIVE BOARD | MANAGEMENT

Dr. Peter Praschag, PhD
Founder Turtle Island, Chair

After he received his degree in Biology and Zoology, Peter founded the conservation and breeding institution Turtle Island, together with his father Reiner. Next to his duties as a turtle-breeder and conservator, he supports various ORF UNIVERSUM TV productions as a scientific advisor. Furthermore, he is a sworn and court-certified expert for biology (keeping and breeding of zoo animals) and a member of the Freshwater Turtle and Tortoise Specialist Group/IUCN, the Field Conservation Committee, and a scientific consultant at the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA). He serves as Vice-President of Turtle Island Corporation, a U.S.A based nonprofit with 501(c)(3) status.

DI Dr. Reiner Praschag
Founder Turtle Island, Chair

Reiner and his son Peter turned their family hobby into careers, as they launched the Turtle Island foundation. As a sworn and court-certified expert for Structural Engineering and Zoology as well as a CITES-Assessor for species conservation, within 40 years they managed to establish one of the greatest and most important turtle collections worldwide with more than 200 different species. Many of these species are endangered in the wild and depend on their life at Turtle Island to ensure their survival on the planet.

Dr. Shannon Diruzzo
Veterinarian, Chair

After working as a small animal and zoo veterinarian in Alaska for over 10 years, Shannon joined Turtle Island. Since 2011, she has been busy working for Turtle Island and various other international turtle conservation projects combining veterinary medicine with the conservation of nature, further supporting her lifelong engagement in the protection and pursuit of wellbeing for all animals. She is also a desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) conservation biologist for solar energy projects and the US military in California and Nevada.  In 2018, she founded and is the President of Turtle Island Corporation, a U.S.A. based nonprofit with 501(c)(3) status.  She is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Amphibian- und Reptilienkrankheiten (AG ARK)  and Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Herpetologie und Terrarienkunde (DGHT).

Torsten Blanck
Chair

Conservation breeding, biological classification, and field studies in Eastern Asia, focusing on the highly endangered Asian Box Turtle, Cuora, form the foundation of Torsten’s studies. His research has included every type of East Asian Box Turtle. Currently, he is deeply involved in investigating the Cuora zhoui, which was recognized in 1990, but never observed in the wild. Torsten maintains the ESF (European Studbook Foundation) studbook for the Cuora trifasciata and Cuora cyclornata, and is also a member of the IUCN TFTSG, the Turtle Survival Alliance, (Field Conservation Committee) and other turtle organisations.

Dr. Alexander Olek, PhD
Chair

As a Biochemist and Mathematician, Alexander is a patent holder and author of various high-ranking academic publications, and was nominated as Entrepreneur of the Year in 2001. Currently, he is working on an innovative concept, which enables him to detect the genetic fingerprints for all higher-living creatures with a single test. The test determines whether animals are wild or captive-bred. Through his collaboration with Turtle Island, he provides technical and scientific skills as well as general knowledge. Alexander is a board member of Turtle Island Corporation, a U.S.A. based nonprofit with 501(c)(3) status.

Anita Pfeffinger, MS (FH)
Marketing-Management and Organization

Anita has been part of the Turtle Island team since 2021 and is responsible for Marketing and Public Relations as well as other organizational, financial, and personnel tasks. She has a degree in International Marketing with a focus on Media- and Event Management and has known Peter for more than 20 years, having previously collaborated on various international blue-chip UNIVERSUM TV documentaries, while serving as head of production.

Animal Care

Madeleine Wheatley, MSc
Zoologist, Zoo Registrar, Head Keeper

With a BSc in Zoology and an MSc in Conservation Biology, Maddy has a passion for wildlife protection. She has previously interned with the Centre for Research and Conservation at Antwerp Zoo, and completed her Master’s thesis on the Spatial Ecology of African rodents following three months of research in Tanzania. She greatly enjoys field work and has had the opportunity to pursue diverse projects across Europe and Asia. Maddy joined Turtle Island in 2020 and now works closely with our international, interdisciplinary team. Together with Peter Praschag, Maddy maintains Turtle Island's studbooks.

Lisa Marschnig
Animal Keeper

When Lisa was 11 years old, she received her first turtle from Turtle Island’s founder, Peter, himself. Currently, she has completed training in Zookeeping and keeps the animals on a day-to-day basis with great care.  

Jasmin Ben Ali
Apprentice Animal Care

Since the age of 12, Jasmin has been actively involved in animal and species conservation and has spent much of her free time volunteering at animal shelters. Since December 2021, she has apprenticed as an animal keeper at Turtle Island.

Christina Weisser
Animal Keeper

Next to her Biology studies, Christina enjoys working part-time as a Turtle Island Animal Keeper. One of her favorite activities is feeding the offspring and gathering knowledge about the breeding behavior of mature turtles.

Barbara Ranner
Animal Keeper

Barbara studies Biology, while simultaneously working at Turtle Island as an Animal Keeper. Through her work, she strives to contribute to the protection and conservation of endangered species.

Elena Gaumberger
Animal Keeper

Elena studies biology at the KF University of Graz. Since childhood she has a special feeling for animals and she loves to work with different species. In her job at Turtle Island she really appreciates that she can work in all areas and that this allows her to acquire new and extensive knowledge.

VOLUNTEERS

Franz Hödl
Volunteer

As a former employee of the Botanical Garden in Graz, Franz knows what it takes to keep things intact. At Turtle Island, he oversees all technical concerns and is our specialist in filtration, pumping technology, and heating.

Monika Magnes-Reiser
Volunteer

Monika had first heard of Turtle Island when she was looking for a new home for her turtle, Paul. Ever since she retired from her former job, she has volunteered whenever she is needed and has become a specialist in feeding and food/diet preparation.

Andrea Bäckenberger
Volunteer

Andrea is keenly interested in the preservation of species and had come to Turtle Island through an internship program. Though she has completed her internship, she couldn’t bear to part from these magnificent turtles. Thus, she continues to volunteer wherever she is needed. 

Susanne Muhry
Volunteer

In addition to her job as a bank assistant, Susanne volunteers at Turtle Island. She greatly enjoys the diversion and satisfaction that comes from her contribution to the preservation of various and endangered species.

INTERNATIONAL PROJECTS

Dr. Brian D. Horne, PhD
Zoologist

Turtles of all kinds have been Brian’s passion for 20 years, while pursuing his career as a Developmental Biologist. His primary goal is the preservation and breeding of endangered species – a pursuit he has followed throughout almost every continent worldwide. Brian is the Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises Coordinator at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). At Turtle Island, he enriches the team with his widespread expertise.

Gregory George
Compound Designer

The health and species-appropriate care of all animal habitats is Greg's greatest concern. Inspired and guided by his field work, he founded Gregory George Designs, which spezializes in the design and fabrication of naturalistic habitats for amphibians, reptiles, fish and small mammals for museums, zoos and nature centers. He creates accurate geological formations, sedimentation, artifacts, and natural plantings to give visitors unique insights into the natural history of the animals on display and how they interact with their environment. Greg is a board member and Secretary for the State of Georgia's Turtle Island Corporation, a nonprofit with 501(c)(3) status.

Herbert Becker
Retired

Since his early youth, Herbert has been involved in keeping and breeding various exotic turtle species. Together with Turtle Island, he works on conservation breeding projects with a focus on East-Asian-pond turtles.

Irmi Häger
Commercial Clerk

After her studies in Business Administration, Irmi Häger discovered her great love for reptiles and has been dedicated to turtles since 1995. Today, she works alongside Turtle Island on conservation breeding projects for South African tortoises and enriches the team with her practical experience.

Richard Gemel
Retired Zoologist

As a turtle keeper himself, Richard learned about their biology at an early age, particularly what it takes for a turtle to be happy. During his 20 year career as the Librarian of the herpetological collection at the Natural History Museum Vienna, he simultaneously served as the General Secretary of the Austrian Association for Herpetology. Following his turtle-esque passion, he now supports Turtle Island with scientific classifications, field herpetological and literature-based tasks.

Roland Zirbs
Employee

Ever since he was a young boy, Roland has been fascinated by fish, amphibians, birds, mammals and snakes, his steppingstone to his favorites today: the magnificent turtles. Together with Turtle Island, he supports conservation breeding projects with a major focus on Asian and American turtle species.

Till Ipser
Retired Teacher

As a passionate swamp-wader, Till has been working with Turtle Island on offspring and breeding programs for various turtle species that have become extinct in the wild. Due to his widespread interests in many areas, he supports Turtle Island by connecting the foundation with the enterprises of Arts and Culture.

Waltraud Pauler
Retired

Together with her deceased husband Ingo, Waltraud has been caring for South American, Asian, and North American terrapins since 1971. A few years ago, she donated her turtles for conservation breeding to Turtle Island and has contributed valuably to the conservation of endangered species ever since.

Claudia Sommerhalder
IT-Administrator

Claudia is an enthusiastic turtle keeper and coordinates all of Turtle Island’s Swiss-related projects. She has an enormous knowledge about turtles and regularly cares for ill or protected turtles at her home, returning them to health.

Rupali Ghosh
Biologist

Throughout her life, Rupali has worked closely with experts, indigenous tribes, and animal welfare organizations to preserve and protect animals. Currently, she works as a Biologist in Northwest India and coordinates Turtle Island’s species protection projects in South Asia as an employee at Schönbrunn Zoo.

Turtle
Turtle Island
A project to conserve
the most threatened
vertebrate animals
on our planet
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