The Yangtze giant softshell turtle is the largest freshwater turtle in the world, and it can grow to 100cm (39in) and weigh up to 100kg (nearly 16 stone).
The main habitat of this unique turtle was the Yangtze River and other inland Chinese waterways. Yet, aquatic life in China’s rivers has drastically diminished after centuries of hunting, decades of pollution ecological disruption by hydroelectric dams, and shipping traffic.
It has now moved closer to extinction, as on Saturday, the 13th of April, the last known female Yangtze giant softshell turtle has passed away at China’s Suzhou Shangfangshan Forest Zoo while recovering from anesthesia, after an AI procedure.
The turtle was 90 years old, and she failed to wake from the anesthetic after being artificially inseminated for the fifth time, with the hope that her potential offspring would carry on the species.
Now, there are only three known males remaining, so the species is functionally extinct.
She was believed to be healthy to undergo AI, but since being brought to Suzhou China, together with a male turtle, she failed to reproduce.
So sad, we should take a moment to reflect. The very last female Yangtze giant softshell turtle on Earth died. Yet another species that is doomed to extinction. While we’re all eulogising
about Notre Dame, this has gone almost unnoticed. This cannot be rebuilt people😭😭 pic.twitter.com/a2haxJhgig
— Barry S. Brunswick Children’s Author (@BarrySBrunswick) April 16, 2019
In 2008, in order to protect its unique species, Chinese zoos along with experts from international conservation groups, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), decided to relocate the female Yangtze giant softshell turtle more than 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) from Changsha Zoo to Suzhou Zoo in 2008.
Scientists hoped that she would mate and produce offspring with the 100-year old male turtle living in captivity at Suzhou, but even though they produced several clutches of eggs, none of them were viable.
While mourning artifacts and architecture we forget to mourn those that humans themselves have caused the destruction of. Destruction of habitat and hunting decimated the yangtze soft shell turtle population. And now the only female has passed away. There’s only 3 left. pic.twitter.com/np1uGRW9F9
— MaD_HaTTeR’s_mikrokosmos_⎊ (@Going_Cray_Cray) April 16, 2019
According to the press release by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the male and female turtles were determined to be healthy for the procedure, and similar anesthesia procedures had previously been performed without incident. Unfortunately, the female turtle did not recover normally this time, and she passed away even though she received nonstop emergency care.
The male one recovered normally, so after a necropsy, an ovarian tissue has been frozen for potential future work.
A female Yangtze giant softshell turtle, believed to be more than 90 years old, died in a zoo in China, leaving behind just three known members of the species. pic.twitter.com/U8JJ6yoJRh
— The Philippine Star (@PhilippineStar) April 17, 2019
The WCS still hopes that the species can still continue, as it has been reported that there are two Yangtze giant softshell turtles of unknown genders living in the wild, in separate lakes.
Scientists hope that they can save this species by working in conjunction with partners in China and with the Vietnamese government.
Unfortunately, hunting and the destruction of their natural habitat have decimated these turtles to near extinction. Therefore, we need to become aware of the importance of our environment, in order to address such issues before they take on such epic proportions, and cause the complete loss of a species.