Giant turtle faces extinction as last known female dies in a Chinese zoo

The Yangtze giant soft-shell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) may become an extinct species after the only captive female, and one of only four known living individuals, died at a zoo in Suzhou City yesterday, April 13.

The turtle, a member of the largest freshwater turtle species in the world, died after an attempt to artificially inseminate the more than 90-year-old specimen by a team of scientists, Friday, April 12.

Chinese language media reports say that the turtle, which is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, showed abnormal signs after the procedure, and died after a 24 hour rescue attempt.

According to the reports, Suzhou zoo said that that the female had been artificially inseminated four times in the past, and that an ultrasound examination taken before Friday’s attempt showed her to be in good health.

Only three known living individuals now exist: one (male) in the Suzhou zoo, one in Dong Mo lake, Vietnam, and one in Xuan Khanh Lake in Vietnam.

The sex of the two wild individuals are not known, and scientists are not even sure if the individual spotted in Dong Mo lake is of the same species. The captive male is more than 100 years old.

The Yangtze Giant soft-shell turtle measures more than 100 centimeters in length, 70 centimeters in width, and can weigh 70-100 kilograms.

Once ranging in river basins from Shanghai to northern Vietnam, the species was subject to habitat loss, over-fishing, and use of bones and carapace in traditional Chinese medicine.

The last captive female of Rafetus swinhoei, photographed in October last year. China News.

Sources: United Daily News, Sina.

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