Last known female Yangtze giant softshell turtle has died, species close to extinction

Now, only three of the turtles remain on earth.

Ashley Tan | April 15, 06:56 pm


One of the rarest turtles in the world, a Yangtze giant softshell turtle, died on April 13, 2019 at the Suzhou zoo in China.

That creature was perhaps the last known female of its kind in the entire world.

On the brink of extinction

The 90-year-old female died after five attempts by the zoo to artificially inseminate her, in the hopes of improving the species’ reproduction rates, reported South China Morning Post.

Although the turtle reportedly did not face complications from the insemination process, her condition deteriorated the next day, reported BBC.

The cause of death is still being investigated and an autopsy will be conducted.

The death of the female turtle, named Xiangxiang, has hit zoo officials and wildlife experts hard, as she leaves behind only three Yangtze turtles in the world.

There remains only one other male turtle in the same zoo, and two wild turtles of unknown gender in Vietnam.

Unless one of the turtles living in the wild in Vietnam is a female, the rare species is doomed to extinction.

The zoo’s previous attempts at artificial insemination for Xiangxiang were also unsuccessful.

Largest freshwater turtle in the world

The Yangtze giant softshell turtle, Rafetus swinhoei, can be found only in China or Vietnam, and is the largest freshwater — river or stream-inhabiting — turtle in the world.

Individuals are able to grow up to 1m in length and weigh between 70kg to 100kg.

Unlike conventional turtles with hard, patterned shells, softshell turtles like the Yangtze species have a smooth carapace instead.

They also possess small eyes and a pig-like snout.

Photo by Tim McCormack via IUCN

Poached and overhunted

Due to overhunting and habitat destruction, the Yangtze turtle is listed as critically endangered by the International Union of Conservation for Nature (IUCN).

According to China Daily, softshell turtle meat is considered a delicacy in Asia due to the belief that its meat is protein and vitamin-rich, and brings about numerous health benefits such as increased virility.

Softshell turtle is referred to as suppon in Japan, and Japanese men reportedly slit the neck of live turtles to drink a mix of turtle blood and sake.

In Singapore, consuming turtle soup is not out of the ordinary.

There are local food review websites listing places to go for turtle soup — a recommended dish.

Infrastructure development along the Red River, such as the construction of dams, has also damaged most of the softshell turtles’ wild habitat, National Geographic stated.

Considering the Yangtze giant softshell turtle is a species that has been around for more than 40 million years, it is a sad sight to see an entire species exterminated.

Top photo from Suzhou Daily’s Weibo account via Vicente Nicol, Facebook

About Ashley Tan

Ashley can't go a week without McDonalds.

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