The world’s most threatened giant turtle loses its last female

Credits: The Turtle Conservation Coalition

Suzhou zoo in China has just announced the death of a female giant turtle that belongs to a critically endangered species.  There are now only three specimen remaining in the world and they are probably all male. 

Yangtze’s giant carapace turtle  (Rafetus swinhoei) is considered to be one of the most threatened turtles in the world.  A few weeks ago there were only four specimen left on the planet.  However the population sadly fell to three on the 14th April 2019. Believed to be the last known female of the species, the turtle died at the honorable age of 90 years old in Chinese Suzhou zoo, the BBC reported.  This tragedy almost guarantees the fate of this rare species on the brink of extinction.

Undetermined cause of death

An artificial insemination attempt was tried with a male a few hours before the death of the tortoise. However the attempt was unsuccessful largely due to the male’s damaged penis.  Regardless, the procedure seemed to have gone smoothly.  The cause of death is still uncertain but a study is being carried out.  The male specimen, aged around 100 years old, will be suffering as he is now the only one left in the enclosure in the Chinese Suzhou zoo.

The last two R. swinhoei tortoises left in the wild are living in separate pools in Vietnam.  Although their gender is unknown, researchers are almost certain that they are two males.  If this is the case, this species that used to be spread across the fresh waters of China and Vietnam will disappear in a couple of years. The reason for the decline of this species is largely due to poaching and loss of habitat. 

Alarming decline of freshwater turtles

Sadly we are becoming used to the fact that turtle numbers are declining.  According to a report carried out in 2018 by the Zoological Society of London, tortoises make up 29 out of  the 100 most threatened reptiles in the world’ “despite the fact that they only represent 3.3% of the diversity of reptile species.  Other turtles that rae just as threatened as the Yangtze giant turtle are t=the Angonka turtle (Astrochelys yniphora) which are endemic in Madagascar and the Chinese three banded turtle (Cuora trifasciata). Owning one of these turtles has become a symbol of financial investment and status in China.

Credits: Wikimedia Commons / Torsten Blanck

Tortoises and turtles play a vital ecological role in their natural environment.  These reptiles can be almost seen to control l the rivers and freshwater courses as they disperse seeds and fungi and can also clean water that has been infected by dead animals.


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