Interview with Dr William McCord by Jan Matiaska, February 2005
Intro: Dr McCord is a Testudines researcher, Veterinarian and owner of the East Fishkill Animal Hospital in Upstate New York, USA. He received his degrees at S.U.N.Y., Delhi in 1970, Cornell U. in 1972 and Purdue U. in 1978.
JM: Dr McCord, first of all, before I ask any question, please let me express how highly I think of your work. If it wasn't for you, we would know much less about particular species if anything at all. Anyway, when did you start to be interested in turtles and what triggered your interest in these unique creatures?
BMC: I have been interested in and maintained turtles since 5 years of age! It started to get serious when a neighborhood lady paid me $5 to clean her turtles once a week. From then on, I was always found at the nearest pond!
JM: You are one of those lucky people who managed to merge their hobby with their profession. I bet you wouldn't swap with anyone else. Looking back, can you imagine you would have ended up doing anything else for living?
BMC: Yes, I am very fortunate to be both a Veterinarian and a "turtle person". Along with trying to be a good family man, and working to my best ability, enjoying and "working" on turtle-related activities is much of what I do. Another occupation I could have enjoyed is a professional taxonomist, since I enjoy both the excitement of discovering "new" turtles, and the challenge of publishing knowledge about them. I do use my Veterinary education for the benefit of my turtles, but I officially practice medicine on dogs and cats. I separate business from personal interests, since I tend to bond with other turtle people easily and often turn an office visit into a social event.
JM: You are known to have a very large turtle collection (if not the largest one in the US) in upstate New York. Many specimens of numerous species surely require a lot of maintenance. How do you manage to run the place and everybody including the turtles happy?
BMC: Yes, my collection has grown steadily over many years! Species readily available in the 1960's and 1970's are still here! My caretaker situation varies greatly. There have been tough years where I have almost no help, and other years where I have up to 3 part-time young workers. The best years were when Patrick Baker was here, as his interests were the same as mine! Many filters have been used, but nothing works as good for me as total replacement of water at least weekly. I accept "pond-like" clean water, and do not try to keep artificially crystal-clear set-ups. Turtles like clean, but as natural as possible environments. It is a challenge to know when to clean, and when to not touch. Over time, a "keeper" with a "feel" for the turtles knows what each species requires.
JM: Do you specialize in turtle/tortoise veterinary or do you also provide services to customers owning animals other than those wearing a carapace and a plastron?
BMC: As I mentioned above I practice Veterinary medicine primarily on dogs and cats. If I made turtles "work", then I fear they would not be as enjoyable for me personally. I am involved "medically" with my own, and those turtles belonging to friends. If I found a suitable income working only with turtles, I would give it serious consideration?
JM: Your life-time passion for turtles must be time consuming and surely requires a lot of support from your family. How do your wife and your daughters put up with you being turtle-busy? As far as I am concerned, your wife, Anne Talutis, helps you run the hospital.
BMC: My family members qualify for sainthood after the many years of turtle activities! They not only deal with my "turtle-time", but they attend many turtle events, and help entertain turtle guests from all over the world on a fairly constant basis. The family more "tolerates" my turtle activities, than shares my interest. My wife listens to me talk about turtles so much (even in my sleep) that she can "hold her own" in conversations with visiting experts! My 2 daughters used to help feed the turtles, but are now pursuing their own non-turtle lives. Yes, my wife, as a Veterinary technician, helps with the business.
JM: Apart from running the hospital, you devote you spare time to researching Testudines. This has also meant a lot of traveling to various far and exotic lands. It must be fascinating to visit unexplored parts of South-East Asia or South America or Australia in search for various, many times not-described-yet, specimens. Is there any part of the world turtle which you would like visit in search of some mysterious turtle?
BMC: If I had to pick a place today to travel for turtles, it would be a toss-up between the Amazon and New Guinea. I have found that quick trips to any place, serve best to start relationships. It is the local people that live in these places that are the key to great discoveries! Good friendships are the answer to success!
JM: You have described various species, many of them from the Australasian region. Which one of them was the hardiest one to describe and why?
BMC: Different turtle descriptions had varying reasons for being "hard" to accomplish. China was probably the most problematic area due to the long-term involvement of the Chinese culture with turtles. Not only did the turtles themselves do things (inter-generic hybridization for example) nobody expected, but the people did things for centuries that outsiders weren't aware of! The entire puzzle is still not totally resolved! Having genetic data available today, helps answer some questions.
JM: As you surely know, Carettochelys.com is dedicated to the Australasian turtles, the families of Carettochelyidae and Chelidae, so let's speak chelids for a moment. You have most likely got a chance to work with all of the genera present in Australia, Irian Jaya and Papua New Guinea. Is there anything unique about researching these genera and their particular species that you don't get with genera from other parts of the world?
BMC: The two families you mention are extremely unique! There is no other turtle in the world more interesting than Carettochelys insculpta! Everything about the creature is fascinating! As far as chelids go, I find them to also be as interesting as a turtle can be! It's amazing how nature produced those beautiful necks! I like everything about them, and exciting to me is the fact that chelids have a great amount of taxonomic work to be done! I have worked extensively with chelids for over 40 years and they continue to be part of my everyday life!
JM: You personally have greatly contributed to the broadening of the knowledge of the Australasian chelids, but their taxonomy is still not well defined. A lot of changes, based on new findings, have taken place in recent years but the final solution of the puzzle is still far off. A number of new species is being described at this very moment. How do you perceive this situation and can we expect any radical reclassification of some species?
BMC: If I had the time, I would make it my life's project to taxonomically solve the entire chelid puzzle. There is much to be done. There are many forms in Australia still being worked on, plus just as many in New Guinea. One genus in which much change will be seen, is "Elseya". Many studies are being done throughout their distribution, by several groups of researchers.
JM: Working with experts like Georges, Rhodin or Cann must be pleasing and rewarding. How do you guys get on? Is there some kind of 'healthy' rivalry among you when undertaking research?
BMC: I do not feel any "rivalry" with my friends. Friends communicate their feelings and intentions, thus avoiding bad feelings. If someone is honest with me, I respect that person, and maintain friendship. Without good friends nothing scientific can be accomplished with state-of-the-art quality, since there are many complicated phases to a good paper. Thankfully, I consider most turtle scientists "friends".
JM: How about our mutual friend Scott Thomson, the well known Australian taxonomist and co-author of Carettochelys.com? You two have worked on several manuscripts together. Can you reveal some information what it is like to work with him?
BMC: Scott Thomson is a brilliant person, and we get along very well. He has been a guest in my home several times, and is welcome again! I believe his family and work-related responsibilities tie up much of his time, as with myself, making it harder to accomplish all that he is capable of.
JM: My favourite Australian chelidae is Emydura macquarii nigra (McCord, et al, 2003). It is its black appearance, relatively small size and limited distribution range that attract me to this Emydura macquarii subspecies. Can you provide me and Carettochelys.com readers with the description?
BMC: The description of E. m. nigra is in Reptilia # 27, the English (UK) or Spanish versions.
JM: Dr McCord, in your life time you have managed to research many species, describe new ones, publish many works, and so on. What can we expect from you in the following years? Is there any turtle related issue which attracts you and which you are going to pay a lot of attention to?
BMC: I am always working on something! We are up to the 19th "Chelonian Illustrations" article in Reptilia magazine with accurate head drawings (giving as much detail as possible), current taxonomy and distribution maps. When all species are covered, with some improvements to the first few articles, we will convert them all into a book. I am working on several very interesting taxonomic papers. When I finish publishing all the undescribed species in my collection, I hope someday to put together a few books, both regional and turtles of the world in scope. Given the time, I hope to get many more things done!
JM: Dr McCord, thank you very much for the interview. I hope you keep up your research activities, produce more manuscripts with valuable information and inform Carettochelys.com about each newly described Chelidae. I wish you all the best.
2005-02-05 / Copyright © 2005 Jan Matiaska.
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