Born in England and raised in Northern Ireland, he relocated to Florida in 1965. He earned a B.A. (with Honors) and a M.A. in chemistry and biochemistry from Oxford University, and a Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Florida, where he studied sea turtle biology with the late Dr. Archie Carr. After four years with the World Wildlife Fund, he became an officer of the Florida Audubon Society in 1973, where he held various positions, including: assistant executive director, senior vice president and acting president. In 1998, he founded the Chelonian Research Institute in Oviedo, Florida (Orlando, Florida area), which remains noted today as one of the world’s leading institutions on turtle research and conservation.
“Chimpanzees have Jane Goodall. Mountain gorillas had the late Dian Fossey. And the world’s turtles and tortoises have Dr. Peter Pritchard.” – The Last Tortoise by Craig B. Stanford
Dr. Pritchard is best known as an authority on the biology and conservation of turtles and tortoises. His work has taken him to more than 100 countries. Both before and after receiving his doctorate in 1969, he has undertaken extensive field work with turtles in all continents and many remote islands. He has established a permanent field station for turtle conservation in northwestern Guyana. Four species of turtle are named after him – a snakeneck turtle from New Guinea, a pond turtle from northern Burma, a giant fossil sideneck turtle from Colombia, and an adult make green turtle from the Carr Refuge in Florida. He has been recognized as a “Champion of the Wild” by the Discovery Television Channel and as “Hero of the Planet” by TIME Magazine. He was also declared “Floridian of the Year” by the Orlando Sentinel newspaper.
Dr. Pritchard is a recent recipient of the Turtle Conservancy’s Conservation Achievement Award; is a Southeast Regional Sea Turtle Hall of Fame inductee and a recipient of the Sea Turtle Society’s Kemp’s Ridley Research Award for his extensive research on the this endangered species of sea turtles, considered the smallest sea turtle species in the world. His industry distinction of having dual expertise in sea turtles and tortoises and fresh water turtles, resulted in being the only industry figure to be awarded both the prestigious John Behler Award for turtle conservation and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Sea Turtle Society.
He has written 13 books, including his latest work, Rafetus: The Curve of Extinction (2012). In 1998, he wrote the preface for a reprint of John Van Denburgh’s celebrated 1914 monograph on the Galapagos tortoises. He also authored Saving What’s Left, a manual on saving environmentally endangered lands in Florida, which has been widely acclaimed by conservationists, legislators and lobbyists alike.
“Peter Pritchard was named a “Hero of the Planet” by Time Magazine for his tireless efforts to save sea turtles. His scientific and popular writings, films and speaking engagements have brought sea turtles to the forefront of public consciousness.” – Saving Sea Turtles by James R. Spotila
Dr. Pritchard has extensive experience as an editor and peer reviewer. He was series editor for the first edition of the six-volume Rare and Endangered Biota of Florida, and currently serves as consulting editor of the journal Chelonian Conservation and Biology. He is also senior editor for the major work, Conservation Biology of Freshwater Turtles, featuring 85 authors from numerous countries, published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN.)
He has served on numerous policy committees. He was chairman of the Florida Endangered Species Advisory Committee, founding chairman of the IUCN Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group, a member of the IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group, co-chairman of the Southeast Region Marine Turtle Recovery Team, and a member of the US Fish and Wildlife Service Manatee, Kemp’s Ridley and Florida Panther Recovery teams. He also served on the National Academy of Sciences Sea Turtle Conservation Committee.
At Florida Audubon, Dr. Pritchard worked on a great variety of field, data-gathering and writing projects. Many of these were undertaken in partnership with the late Dr. Herbert W. Kale, longtime vice president for ornithological research at FAS. These projects included a survey of radionuclides in wildlife on phosphate-mine lands in Polk County, Florida; preparation and publication of the book, Saving What’s Leftand an analysis of wildlife utilization of restored wetlands on former mining land in Florida.
Various research and conservation projects and consultancies have taken him to Micronesia, Trinidad, Senegal, Suriname, Costa Rica, Mexico, Venezuela, and the Galapagos Islands, and he has traveled extensively, especially in Africa and Asia, in the course of filming turtles for a cinematography project entitled “The Turtle Planet.” Two hour-long specials, Bostami, Vishnu, and Walter, and Sidenecks of Gondwanaland were produced in this series.
He has produced videos including Homeward Journey, about sea turtle conservation in Florida, and a promotional film entitled Every One Counts, describing the work of the Florida Audubon Center for Birds of Prey. He has also appeared in numerous television productions speaking on the subjects of turtle biology and conservation. These include: Farewell Ancient Mariner (a Greenpeace sea turtle documentary); Adios Arribadas (a sea turtle documentary made by the Florida Institute of Oceanography); The Heartbreak Turtle (a special on the plight of the Kemp’s Ridley species, made by KUHT Television of Houston, Texas) and Something Nobody Else Has (a documentary on the decline of the alligator snapping turtle, funded by the Louisiana Foundation for the Humanities).
He also appeared in Reclaiming the Land, a documentary about phosphate mine reclamation made by IMC Fertilizer Corp. He was also featured extensively in a BBC4 televison production about the Galapagos Islands and the giant male Pinta Island Tortoise, Lonesome George, the last known individual of the subspecies, noted as the rarest creature in the world. Dr. Pritchard was among the first scholars to discover the tortoise, and as a member of the research team, facilitated his discovery in the Galapagos Islands. Dr. Pritchard was the only industry professional with video footage of the tortoise in his habitat and has been sought after by global television networks for access to this rare footage.
Dr. Pritchard developed the concept of conservation without confrontation, recognizing that finding common ground with those identified as opponents, and developing consensus positions by a process of mutual education, may be the only way of establishing lasting changes without provoking constant challenges and demanding impracticable levels of law enforcement. He has applied these techniques both in Florida and around the world, and has over the years been invited by the governments of nations ranging from Trinidad and Tobago to Papua, New Guinea to develop socially sensitive programs for wildlife conservation. In Mexico in the 1980s, he engaged in a series of dialogues with the proprietor and owner of a major marine turtle slaughterhouse and international industry in turtle products, who was identified by many as being beyond the conservation ethic. These exchanges resulted in the individual leaving the industry, and ultimately to the closure of the operation.
He is credited with the rescue of Kemp’s Ridley species of turtles in Mexico, resulting in a 20-year increase of the species’ population. He created the first nesting beach patrol effort, which later was adopted and expanded by the Mexican government and US conservation agencies.
Dr. Pritchard has also worked with the Arawak people of Guyana for many years, instilling a more protective attitude toward the wildlife species, especially marine turtles, upon which they depend. This project has attracted international attention and was described in the National Geographic book Hidden Worlds of Wildlife. It was also featured in a special for the Paris television network Canal Plus (shown widely in Europe). The Guyana conservation program has resulted in Dr. Pritchard being selected as a featured conservationist for the Canadian television series Champions of the Wild, shot on-site in Guyana in May 1998, and aired extensively in Canada, the United States, and the U.K. As a continued credit to his influence in Guyana, Dr. Pritchard obtained the support of then Prime Minister, the Honorable Sam Hinds, in the conservation effort and established an on-going partnership with the Arawak community for conservation education. Both he and the prime minister became patrons of the Sea Turtle Protection Society in Guyana. Today, he is a board member and co-patron with the prime minister and other influential professionals of the Guyana Marine Turtle Conservation Society. He also maintains projects in Vietnam and China, focused on conservation of the world’s largest and rarest softshell turtle.
In the course of the last several decades, Dr. Pritchard has undertaken a demonstration project to show that a useful systematics collection of natural history specimens can be built up without sacrifice of live animals. His institute’s collection of turtle and tortoise specimens has resulted in more than 13,000 specimens and is the most comprehensive in existence, with 100 percent of genera and about 95 percent of living species being represented. In 1998, with funding from the Chelonia Institute, this collection was established in permanent housing the Chelonian Research Institute.
Dr. Pritchard is an adjunct professor of biology at Florida Atlantic University and the University of Central Florida. He is a renowned lecturer and speaker at home and abroad, both on topics relating to his specialty and on general topics relating to endangered species conversation, travel and philosophical subjects. He is also a photographer whose work has been exhibited at the United Nations and has appeared in National Geographic, National Wildlife, International Wildlife, Audubon, World Book Encyclopedia, Natural History, and numerous textbooks and coffee table books. He is fluent in Spanish and French, and has published in both of those languages. His Manual of Sea Turtle Conservation Techniques, prepared for the West Atlantic Turtle Symposium and since revised and reissued, has been translated into Spanish and Hebrew.
He resides in Oviedo, Florida (the Orlando area) with his wife, Sibille Hart Pritchard and adult sons.
Dr. Pritchard is regarded, praised and beloved as a scientist, scholar, husband, father mentor and friend. He has made turtle and tortoise research and conservation his life’s work and has made an indelible imprint globally.