Behler, John L. 1943–2006

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Behler, John L. 1943–2006
(John Luther Behler)


See index for SATA sketch: Born June 28, 1943, in Allentown, PA; died of congestive heart failure, January 31, 2006, in Amawalk, NY. Herpetologist, museum curator, and author. A curator of herpetology at the Bronx Zoo, Behler was renowned for his successful efforts in saving turtle and alligator species in China. Since his boyhood, when he spent much of his time finding snakes and butterflies in his neighborhood, Behler was interested in wildlife. Completing a B.S. at the University of Miami, he then earned an M.Ed. in biological science at East Stroudsburg University. After finishing his studies, Behler taught briefly at William Smith College and Hobart College. In 1970, he was hired by the Wildlife Conservation Society, the organization that is also in charge of operations at the Bronx Zoo. Spending the rest of his career at the zoo, Behler worked to improve the reptile and amphibian exhibits, which now include over one hundred species—many of them rare or endangered—from around the world. He also conducted research in such countries as China and Madagascar. Three severe problems, he learned, were plaguing species of turtle and alligator in Asia: the pet trade, the food industry, and the traditional medicine industry. In China, turtles are a much-demanded delicacy, and by the 1990s the demand for turtles for food was still being sated by trapping the animals in the wild; reptiles were also killed to make various medicines. Behler warned that wild trapping would result in the extinction of many species of turtles, and he convinced the Chinese government to start captive breeding programs to raise turtles domestically for food. This did much to relieve the stress on the turtle populations, and Behler was hailed as a hero among conservationists. He also worked to save the Chinese alligator, which was almost extinct when he rescued several animals and brought them back to the Bronx Zoo for breeding. In Madagascar, Behler conducted research to track the radiated tortoise, thus learning where the animals preferred to live and breed; based on this information, he established a protected reserve for them. In addition to his research and zoo work, Behler published several guides that are still widely read, including Familiar Reptiles and Amphibians: North America (1988) and National Audubon Society First Field Guide: Reptiles (1999).



New York Times, February 5, 2006, p. A25.