Meet Us

Pat Ashton, Manager

Pat Ashton
Pat Ashton

Patricia is the manager of ABPRI. Her primary focus is research on gopher tortoises, their commensals, and their habitat. She specializes in writing management plans and educational curriculum. Additionally, Pat works on plant surveys, habitat monitoring, and habitat management. She also designs risk management, initial suitability assessments, and business plans for preserves.

Patricia has been actively involved in investigating the natural world since 1967, when she worked at Tropical Atlantic Biological Labs on Key Biscayne and explored the Everglades mapping rare plants. She worked on projects throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean as well as in Australia, New Zealand, the Bahamas, Barbados, Spain, China, Western Canada and the eastern United States. Following the death of her husband Ray, she has continued to work in education, field research, and writing.

Chase Pirtle, Animal Care Specialist and Habitat Manager

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Chase Pirtle with one of our resident gopher tortoises

Chase Pirtle has been obsessed with the natural world for as long as he can remember. He began his animal career at a young age volunteering at the Moonridge Animal Park in Big Bear California. Since then, Chase worked at a wolf sanctuary and received his Florida FWC venomous license, as well as his authorized gopher tortoise agent permit. Chase completed a two-year animal science program in New Jersey, attended a forestry and wildlife ecology program in South Carolina, and graduated from the Santa Fe Teaching Zoo in Florida. He also spent time working in the zoo world.

He is now the Animal Care Specialist and Habitat Manager at ABPRI and a Venomous Instructor with The Rattlesnake Conservancy.

Maggie Curtis, International Research Consultant

Maggie Curtis

Working at the Smithsonian National Zoo Membership Office gave Maggie a glimpse into the world of animals beyond domestic pets. Realizing she could turn her fascination with animals into a career, Maggie completed the A.Sc. program at Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo. She received her B.S. in animal ecology from Iowa State University.

Maggie worked in South Africa learning game reserve management and wildlife rehabilitation and tracking lions and cheetahs. She also worked in Thailand, focusing on elephant forest reintroduction, sea turtle conservation, and rainforest biodiversity.

Maggie is an international research consultant with Ashton Biological Preserve. She is currently studying Cape Griffon vultures in Namibia. For more information about research at Ashton or questions about property conservation management, please reach out to her by e-mail.

Rhett Barker, Fundraising and Marketing Coordinator

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Rhett Barker is the Fundraising and Marketing Coordinator for Ashton Biological Preserve. He grew up in north Florida and has a deep connection to the region’s natural places. Rhett has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation. He is currently a master’s student in Natural History Film at Montana State University.

Jake Swisher, On-site Manager

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Jake Swisher has been surrounded by the animal world from early childhood, with family including zookeepers, wildlife conservationists, and veterinary practice managers. As a result of this upbringing, Jake got his own formal education at the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo. Using his experience with the zoological and captive care aspects of conservation, Jake is applying his skill set to wildlife conservation at Ashton Biological Preserve.

Lauren Griffin, Communications Manager

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Lauren Griffin is the Communications Manager of ABPRI and has been volunteering with the Preserve since 2015. She is a postdoctoral associate in communications at the University of Florida, where she studied environmental media and communications. She loves working on conservation projects in her adopted home state of Florida, and is particularly fond of wading birds and hognose snakes.

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