A zoo in southern China is reporting that the only known female member of one of the world’s rarest and most endangered turtle species died Saturday. It was more than 90 years old.
The female Yangtze giant softshell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) died at the Suzhou Zoo in Suzhou, China a day after an attempt at artificial insemination, part of an effort to help save its species from extinction. The death means only three giant softshell turtles remain in the world.
The city government said in a statement that experts have already used technology to collect the turtle’s ovarian tissue for future research.
The world’s rarest turtle, Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle, saw one more death at Suzhou Zoo, E.China’s Jiangsu on Sat. The death of the only known female in China increases the extinction risk of the species, whose population now drops to three (1 in China, 2 in Vietnam). pic.twitter.com/aTJFCL1HGw
— People’s Daily, China (@PDChina) April 14, 2019
The Suzhou zoo is home to another Yangtze giant softshell turtle — a male. Two others live in Vietnam, but they are both thought to be males.
According to state-run newspaper People’s Daily, the turtle had been inseminated five times since 2008. Although the last insemination was said to have gone smoothly and the turtle appeared to be in fine health after the procedure, her condition deteriorated the following day.
In 2015, scientists from the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), San Diego Zoo Global, and Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Bronx Zoo, assisted in an attempt for artificial insemination, in what was then called a “last chance” to breed the rare turtle.
The female turtle was transferred to Suzhou Zoo from Changsha Ecological Zoo in 2008 to be paired with the male, believed to be more than 100 years old, as part of a captive breeding program designed to recover the species. Although the two turtles have displayed courting behavior, eggs laid by the female were infertile.
Listed at the top of the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species, as critically endangered, the Yangtze giant softshell turtle is the most critically endangered turtle in the world. Much of its demise has been attributed to over-harvesting and habitat degradation.
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