Asia’s Yangtze giant softshell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) is perhaps one of the world’s rarest turtle species. Before this week, there were only four confirmed specimens in existence today. Sadly, one of those four died in captivity at Suzhou Zoo in Southern China.
Image Credit: VCG/Getty/File Photo
As if it wasn’t sad enough that there are now only three confirmed Yangtzee giant softshell turtles in the entire world, consider this: the one that died over the weekend was also the only known female. She was accompanied by a single male Yangtzee giant softshell turtle at the zoo, and he’s still around today.
Apart from the lone male residing at Suzhou Zoo, the only other two confirmed Yangtzee giant softshell turtles in existence today purportedly live in the wild in Vietnam. Unfortunately, they haven’t been officially sexed, and so no one knows for sure whether they’re male or female or where they might be hiding at this exact moment in time.
The female Yangtzee giant softshell turtle that passed away over the weekend was estimated to be around 90 years old, and she had just finished undergoing her fifth artificial insemination attempt in an effort to boost the species’ numbers. Experts say she was in good health and that the procedure went smoothly, so the exact cause of death is unknown.
A full-scale investigation is now underway to determine why the female Yangtzee giant softshell turtle died. It’s entirely possible that she succumbed to old age in an uncanny instance of happenstance rather than because of the artificial insemination attempt, but experts have collected ovarian tissue samples from her lifeless body just in case it holds any clues into the situation.
At the time of this writing, it’s unknown what will happen next. Will conservationists venture out to Vietnam in an attempt to find and identify the sex of the two remaining wild specimens? Or will we sit back and do nothing, enabling the species to die off in peace? Although neither option is particularly ideal, extinction of the Yangtzee giant softshell turtle species would be inevitable if the deceased indeed was the last remaining female.
On a more positive note, who knows… perhaps a few more Yangtzee giant softshell turtles are lurking somewhere out there and are just waiting to be found. Only time will tell...