Steadfast efforts continue to prevent the extinction of the Giant Yangtze Soft Shell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei), even with the news that the last known female of the species died on Saturday, April 13, 2019. The 90-year-old plus female turtle died during recovery from anesthesia after an artificial insemination procedure in Suzhou, China.
The Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) and the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) are committed to working with the Chinese and Vietnamese governments to use the best science and conservation tactics to ensure that the Giant Yangtze Soft Shell Turtle can thrive again in its native river and lake landscapes. TSA and WCS will be joined by their conservation partner in Asia, Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS).
Rick Hudson, TSA President, said, “Waking up to the news of this female’s death was like being kicked in the gut. While the loss of this female is both sad and tragic, we simply had no choice but to try. This species had become the poster child for what can happen when we don't recognize and address species' declines rapidly. We must intensify our efforts. My heart goes out to our team in China who did everything they could to ensure that this female contributed to the survival of her species. They are all heroes in my book."
Said Jim Breheny, Director of the Bronx Zoo and Executive Vice President of WCS Zoos and Aquarium, “The death of this female Giant Yangtze Soft Shell turtle is a real tragedy; one of the last animals of this species following a long decline in the wild population caused by hunting and habitat destruction. This is a wake-up call as these threats decimate countless species. We all need to work together to reduce the negative impact of human activity on wild species at home and in the places they live around the world.”
In Vietnam, two individuals of unknown sex are known to be in separate lakes, and conservation partners are working with the Vietnamese government using a broad range of methods to locate potential additional animals in a number of lakes where they have possibly been spotted. If individuals of different sexes are confirmed, it is hoped that they will be brought together to propagate.
The male and female turtles in Suzhou China, which had failed to produce offspring naturally since they were brought together in 2008, were determined to be healthy for the artificial insemination (AI) procedure, and similar anesthesia procedures had previously been performed multiple times without incident. The male, with an injured penis following a fight with another turtle, was not capable of copulation and conservationists believed that using AI was the only option to potentially secure viable eggs. This was the fifth AI attempt by the team of international experts with these two turtles since 2015. 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. The male recovered normally from the procedure. A necropsy will be performed and ovarian tissue has been frozen for potential future work.