Professor from Serbia Researches Threatened Turtles

Professor from Serbia Researches Threatened Turtles

Working with several students from Eastern New Mexico University, funding for the research project is being provided by the Share with Wildlife program.

According to the website, "Dr. Mali is revisiting historic positive localities as well as finding new positive detections in order to gather baseline data and begin long-term monitoring programs. She is also comparing two techniques for surveying the Cooter population in southeastern New Mexico, and is working with the students to fine-tune their baiting technique for the approach that involves capturing turtles."

They are "capturing turtles in hoop net traps baited with shrimp or sardines and marking the adults so that they can be identified in future as having been previously captured. They are comparing success rates of the two different baits and seeing how well the hands-on, mark-recapture technique compares to a completely hands-off, distance sampling approach. Distance sampling involves detecting turtles that are basking, recording the location with a GPS, and determining the distance from the observer to the basking spot. This is no easy feat since the cooters may bask on a variety of surfaces at the water's edge, including branches of downed trees that overhang the water, and will submerge themselves the second they detect the surveyors' kayak.

"In spite of the turtle's particular and elusive ways, Dr. Mali is having good success with both survey techniques. She is capturing turtles of all ages, including hatchlings (any turtle nerd knows this is particularly difficult!), in her traps and has seen as many as 44 turtles basking or along the 1,400 m of river's edge during a single distance survey. Finding the hatchlings is especially encouraging, though, given recent flooding events along the Black River, only time will tell how many of these babies survive to adulthood."

Read the full article at

Editor's Note: In the following interview, Dr. Mali discusses the project, and other matters—including moving from Serbia to the United States.

Q. What is the history of your involvement with the turtles? How did your interest in them evolve?

I have studied freshwater turtles since 2008 when I started grad school at Texas State University. My master thesis was about turtle reproductive demography and ever since turtles have been my passion. I really did not know much about turtles before I started grad school.

Q. What is the importance of your research in preserving the turtles?

My work to date focused greatly on sustainability and sustainable use of freshwater turtles, specifically in the southeast U. S. where unregulated commercial harvest led to severe depletions in the overall abundances. And it is not only harvest that is threatening turtles; other anthropogenic factors such as road development, river flow alterations, and pet trade all have significant effect on turtles.

With my arrival to ENMU, I got a unique opportunity to work on Western River Cooter, the least studied turtle species in North America that only lives in Texas and New Mexico. I am currently evaluating how the populations within New Mexico are doing and what is their current distribution. Given that this is a state-threatened species with a potential for federal listing, my goal is to establish a long-term monitoring program for Western River Cooters.

Q. Does your research say anything about environmental issues in general?

Yes it does. Pecos River is one of the most troubled rivers in the U. S. Dam construction and water pumping greatly alter river flow and water pollution has taken its toll. Black River, a tributary of Pecos, is not much different. We already know that these factors caused depletion of freshwater mussels. For example, Texas hornshell mussels were abundant along the entire stretch of the Black River, but today they only occur along the nine-mile stretch. We are just now starting to research how environmental factors affect freshwater turtles.

Q. How long will you continue the project?

Summer 2016 was my first trapping season for Western River Cooters in New Mexico. However, my goal is to continue this project long term, at least five years, in order to get survivorship and growth rate estimates.

Q. How has ENMU assisted you with your project?

Through the Share with Wildlife Grant funded through New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, I was able to employ three ENMU undergraduate students that helped me with the surveys over summer. They were a great help in the field and I could not have done it without them.

Q. Have you enjoyed your teaching experience at ENMU? In what ways?

Yes, I have. I love teaching in general whether that is in classroom or teaching students in the field. This world needs more people that understand the importance of our natural resources and proper ways to conserve nature. It is my hope that through the ENMU wildlife and fisheries program and many classes we offer, we can teach young minds to be better ecologists, conservationists, wildlife managers, etc.

Q. Tell us a little about you. Where are your degrees from, what did you major in, etc.? Where did you grow up and what were your interests growing up?

I was born and raised in Serbia. I was always fascinated by the natural world, enjoyed being outside, and had particular interest in animals. In 2004, I moved to the U. S. where I earned a bachelor degree in biology from Henderson State University, master degree in wildlife ecology from Texas State University, and doctorate in aquatic resources from Texas State University.

Q. What others things have you done in your career?

I also developed an interest in disease ecology aspect of wildlife. Over the summer I worked on several publications about fungal disease that affects amphibians across the globe. I worked with colleagues from the University of Belgrade and Texas State University and we currently have two manuscripts in review. My lab is also starting research on wildlife diseases of mammals.

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