Interview with Oliver Römpp by Jan Matiaska, March 2004
Intro: Oliver Römpp has dedicated his life to keeping and studying the long-necks from Australia, New Guinea and Indonesia. As the years went by, he has become one of greatest experts concerning the Chelodina and Macrochelodina species.
JM: Oliver, you have kept turtles for more than 25 years now so it is obvious this is a life time passion for you. You had kept various species before you began to specialize in snake-necks and, even today, you still keep several species outside of the Chelodina and Macrochelodina genera. Nevertheless, the majority of your turtles are snake-necks. What is it about the snake-necks that attracts you to them so much?
OR: Most people either like them or they don't. There is only little between. I have fallen in love with snake-necked turtles, because they have some special personality besides their unusual looking. I was amazed by these turtles after looking into two lively eyes on top of a very long neck looking at you and begging for food. Talking about personality, I have the feeling that most snake-necked turtles, especially those of the genus Chelodina, do build up a special relationship towards the keeper.
JM: As far as I am concerned, you are one those keepers who try to find out about the species they keep as much information as possible. Knowing every single detail (natural conditions a particular species lives in; its anatomy; its behavioural patterns; etc) is what makes you feel gratified. Reading books and scientific articles, talking to other experts or undertaking field trips are all activities that help you gain as much information as possible. One could say you are a walking snake-neck encyclopedia. Have you ever thought of putting your knowledge down on paper?
OR: Putting down my knowledge to paper would be a challenging work. At the moment I feel satisfied by publishing this information via my homepage. This is quite a lot of work to keep it updated and interesting for visitors. Also I have the feeling that with a homepage it is much more convenient and faster to communicate and get in contact with many people from all over the world.
JM: In the past you made some field trips to countries where your favourite species can be found in the wild. It must have been really fascinating to see the snake-necks in their native habitat. I reckon visiting such places is a dream of each serious turtle keeper. Looking back, how would you describe your feelings about these trips?
OR: Field trips are always something special, even if one is not so successful. Sometimes it is not easy to find what you are looking for. But field trips do give you many answers on the turtle itself. Once you see under which conditions turtles do live in the wild, so much better you can manage their conditions in captivity. Believe it or not, but I have not been in Australia yet. The land of snake-necks is still on my wish list to explore!
JM: Even though you surely like all the Chelodina and Macrochelodina species, is there a particular snake-neck which is your all time favourite?
OR: Every snake-neck species has something special. Chelodina parkeri sometimes has an eye-catching head and neck coloration. Chelodina expansa is impressing itself by the size. But my overall favorite species is Chelodina longicollis.
JM: You have managed to breed various snake-necks. What was the first Chelodina / Macrochelodina species that you successfully bred and which species do you find to be the most difficult to breed?
OR: The first species I have bred was Chelodina longicollis, Even I did not see the hatchlings emerging the egg ( I was traveling at that time), I felt very happy having this tiny babies with their curious looking eyes for the first time in my hands. The most difficult species is probably Chelodina expansa, since these eggs require a secondary diapause during incubation. In general all Macrochelodina eggs are somehow difficult to incubate; at least I have much lower hatching success with them compared with Chelodina eggs.
JM: I am aware you successfully breed Chelodina mccordi, a turtle which is included on the list of the 25 most endangered species. This turtles is restricted to an area of occupancy of less than 100 sq km on the single small island of Roti, Indonesia. It has nearly disappeared from areas of former occurrence and a species recovery plan is urgently needed. Do you see experts like yourself playing a big role in saving this endemic species from its entire extinction?
OR: Personally I do not believe that extinction in the wild can be stopped for many Asian species. This is also true for Chelodina mccordi. Therefore it is very important to work on these species in captivity. I do work together with different breeding programs in Europe and the US. For example last year 30 hatchlings have been sent to the US for different captive breeding programs and blood exchange. I also do work together with a wildlife organization in Indonesia and hope that my knowledge does help them in establishing breeding programs on site. If extension in the wild can not be stopped now, there might be a second chance to re-introduce these animals at some indefinite future date, when the situation has changed and people are more sensitive to their environment. We have learned our lessons in Europe and have extinct many species here. The Asian countries will probably have to go the same stony way…
JM: I know we share the love for the Carettochelyidae family with its sole survivor Carettochelys insculpta. I also know you have some adult specimens, some of which you have lent to the Zoological Garden Wilhelma (Stuttgart, Germany) for their breeding program. Is this Zoo the only organization you work with or are there some other local or international institutions you cooperate with?
OR: There is some exchange with German Zoos and US Zoos and institutions. Cooperation and exchange is always helpful in the small world of turtle enthusiasts.
JM: A lot of people have visited your web site. It is very professional, full of detailed information, and well structured. Judging by the posts that the visitors make, the site has helped a lot of people, including experienced keepers, to answer their questions about the Chelodina and Macrochelodina genera. What made you to create your own web site www.chelodina.com?
OR: Once I discovered the Internet as source of unlimited information a few years ago, I felt that it makes sense to share my knowledge and pictures with other people. The feedback that I get from visitors gives me right. Even students and teachers from Australia tell me how helpful my page is in either preparing their lessons or doing their exercises. Many people ask me for advises and help and everybody knows how important it is to get this help if there is a turtle's wellbeing behind the question.
JM: Besides turtles, you have a family, your wife Ulrike and over 2 years old son Julius. I know Julius already helps you to take care of your turtles; at least he is now able to run among your setups without getting hurt. Does your family support your life time commitment? After all keeping and breeding so many turtles is a time consuming activity.
OR: They certainly do. Not only accepting that fact that I have to spend some of my time with the turtles, my wife also assist me in all kind of work that is related with the turtles like reading over articles etc. She also takes care of the turtles if I am not at home. She even knows the scientific names for most of the species….
JM: Thorough the years, you have accomplished many objectives concerning turtles. Are there any snake-necks related goals left which you would like to achieve in the future?
OR: Several goals are left. One goal will be to make a field trip to Australia which would give me more insights on the turtles that I am taking care of. The other goal will be to build a huge greenhouse with a large setup. This would give me the opportunity to even keep larger species as Carettochelys insculpta and Macrochelodina expansa under more appropriate and natural conditions.
JM: Oliver, thank you very much for the interview. I appreciate your willingness to answer my questions and wish you all the best both family-wise and turtle-wise.
To contact Oliver Römpp please visit his web site chelodina.com