Female Turtle Of Rare Species On The Brink Of Extinction Found, Revives Hope For Survival

Female Turtle Of Rare Species On The Brink Of Extinction Found, Revives Hope For Survival

After the last known female Yangtze giant softshell turtle died in 2019, the fate of the only three remaining male turtles was sealed till a female turtle was found in Vietnam in 2020

The world's rarest turtle, Yangtze giant softshell turtle, is on the brink of extinction. All hopes to revive the population seemed to have been lost when the last known female turtle died in Suzhou zoo in southern China in 2019. She was 90-years-old at the time and all attempts to artificially inseminate her had failed, reported BBC. This meant certain extinction for this particular species of turtle. There were then only three surviving male turtles left. The population of the turtle, much like other species, dwindled because of human activities such as the destruction of its habitat, hunting, and overfishing.




Conservationists were not going to give up just yet. “We remain hopeful as we work to find another female,” Aimin Wang, director of the China division of the Wildlife Conservation Society told National Geographic. Wang has been tirelessly scouring the rivers of China’s Yunnan Province on the lookout for the freshwater turtle. The turtles, who can weigh upward of 200 kilograms or 440 pounds were also found in Vietnam rivers but it was unclear whether they are male or female. “If individuals of different sexes are confirmed, it is hoped that they will be brought together to propagate,” Wang stated hopefully. And his prayers may have finally been answered.




A female turtle was found captured from Dong Mo Lake in Vietnam in October 2020. Genetic results released by scientists have confirmed that it is definitively the near-extinct Yangtze giant softshell turtle, reported Weather.com. It is also known as the Swinhoe's softshell turtle.  "This is a very important mission and it needs to be done effectively," Nguyen Huy Dang, Deputy Director of Ha Noi Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, stated. "We have been seeking advice and consultation from the Ha Noi People's Committee to promulgate guiding documents and collaboration with an international organization to execute our development and conservation plan of Rafetus Swinhoei."




Recovery of the species may just be possible now. "In a year full of bad news and sadness across the globe, the discovery of this female can offer all some hope that this species will be given another chance to survive," WCS Vietnam Country Director Hoang Bich Thuy said. "Overhunting and habitat destruction have contributed to the demise of this species. In Vietnam, with the leadership of the government, we are determined to take responsibility to give this species another chance." After multiple failed attempts to inseminate the previous female turtle, the conservationists have one more chance to put their knowledge to practice.




With the previous turtle, the scientists were unfamiliar with artificial insemination but they persisted and managed to find a way to do it. Despite that and four to five attempts, no viable eggs emerged. “The possibilities for recovery are quite high,” Tim McCormack, the head of the ATP headquartered in Hanoi told Mongabay. A female can lay 30 to 40 eggs in one clutch, and there is usually more than one clutch a year. So if they succeed, the Yangtze giant softshell turtle can be revived. With just one healthy pair of turtles and a bit of luck, the global population could go from three to more than 50 in a years' time.




“All the people in the village and all the fishermen now know this Rafetus species in here [and] very rare. They want to keep it for a long time for all students in the village can see it in the future,” Nguyen Van Trong, a former fisherman who is now a full-time turtle watcher said. “They maintain it for, yes, future generations.” There are now preventive measures like the establishment of no-fishing zones and if a fisherman spots the turtle, they immediately inform Trong. There is still a lot of things necessary for turtle conservation including the need to build a facility and according to McCormack, “a lot more funding.”




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