We Have Lost The Last Female Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle

Until very recently, there were only four Yangtze giant softshell turtles we knew of.

And last year, the only female among them passed away in China’s Suzhou Shangfangshan Forest Zoo after artificial insemination was tried on her, according to reports. She was over 90 years of age.

Currently, there are three Yangtze giant softshell turtles left: a wild turtle found in Vietnam’s Xuan Khanh Lake, a geriatric turtle living in Suzhou Zoo, and a wild turtle in the Dong Mo Lake in Vietnam.

In order to shield these rare creatures from harm, zoos in China and international conservation groups – the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) – opted for a “desperate move” and relocated the female Yangtze more than 600 miles from Changsha Zoo to Suzhou Zoo back in 2008.

It was thought that she would produce babies with the 100-year-old male turtle that also lived at Suzhou.

And eventually, the two were able to produce some eggs, but none of them were viable.

Experts were trying to artificially inseminate the female ever since 2015, but even though she managed to lay eggs, none of them survived long enough to hatch.

In April of 2019, after the fifth insemination attempt, she passed away while recovering from anesthesia. The male survived the procedure.

“The male and female turtles, which have failed to produce offspring naturally since they were brought together in 2008, were determined to be healthy for the procedure, and similar anesthesia procedures had previously been performed without incident,” WCS revealed in a statement. “Sadly, this time the female turtle did not recover normally as she had in the past and she died despite 24 hours of nonstop emergency care. A necropsy will be performed and ovarian tissue has been frozen for potential future work.”

The Yangtze is one of the rarest and most threatened by extinction turtles. The loss of wetland habitats due to the development of infrastructure and river damming, poaching for eggs and meat, in addition to pet trade demand, have pushed the species toward total disappearance.

While only three turtles are confirmed to be living today, there could be more in the wilderness that have not yet been discovered.

“The species is very secretive and the lakes and large rivers that they are found in [are] large and complex,” Timothy McCormack, program coordinator of the Hanoi-based Asian Turtle Program of Indo-Myanmar Conservation (ATP/IMC), a U.K.-based conservation charity, told Mongabay in 2019. “If you see how difficult it is to observe these animals, even when you know they are in a relatively small area then you’ll understand how hard they will be [to] find.”

Experts continue to work hard in their search for more of these special creatures.

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