BEIJING—The only known female member of one of the world’s rarest turtle species has died at a zoo in southern China, officials said on Sunday, April 14.
The animal was one of four Yangtze giant softshell turtles known to be remaining in the world.
The Suzhou zoo, where the female turtle lived, also houses a male Yangtze giant softshell turtle. The other two live in Vietnam, but their genders are unknown.
What may be the world’s last female #Yangtze giant softshell turtle died Saturday after an aborted attempt at artificial insemination on Friday at a zoo in Suzhou, East China’s Jiangsu Province on Saturday. https://t.co/ZaT4S5jAxS pic.twitter.com/J2MFwXrtyA
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) April 14, 2019
The turtle died Saturday afternoon, the Suzhou city government said in a statement, citing the zoo.
It said experts have already used technology to collect the turtle’s ovarian tissue for future research.
The state-run People’s Daily reported that the turtle was over 90 years old and had undergone a fifth attempt at artificial insemination shortly before she died.
A medical examination found the turtle to be in good health prior to the procedure, the People’s Daily said, and the artificial insemination appeared to go smoothly. But the turtle died the following day.
Yangtze giant softshell turtles originated in China, making their homes in the Yangtze River and Taihu Lake, according to the People’s Daily. The species is often referred to as the most endangered turtle in the world.
The world’s rarest turtle, Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle, saw one more death at Suzhou Zoo, E.China’s Jiangsu on Sat. The death of the only known female in China increases the extinction risk of the species, whose population now drops to three (1 in China, 2 in Vietnam). pic.twitter.com/aTJFCL1HGw
— People’s Daily, China (@PDChina) April 14, 2019
Suzhou authorities said Chinese and foreign experts are investigating the cause of the turtle’s death.
One of Four Died in 2016
A giant softshell turtle, described as Vietnam’s “sacred” turtle, died in the country’s Hoan Kiem Lake in 2016, according to media reports.
“It is almost impossible to put into words the significance of this loss,” Peter Pritchard, a turtle researcher who is also founder of the Florida-based Chelonian Research Institute, told National Geographic in a report on Feb. 2.
The BBC reported that there are only three giant Yangtze softshell turtles left in the world now. Two are in a zoo in China, and the other one is in another Vietnamese lake.
The dead specimen weighed more than 400 pounds and could be well over 100 years old.
The turtle was “possibly the rarest species on the planet and definitely the rarest turtle species… It’s a great blow,” that it had died, Tim McCormack with the Asian Turtle Program, told the AFP news agency.
“It was clearly an ancient animal, I would say easily over 100 years old, and so its death does not come as any real great surprise,” he added.
— Dhyân Chohan (@Chohan_Nature) February 2, 2016
A number of Vietnamese social media users mourned the death of the turtle, known as “Cu Rua.”
“The turtle was a sacred animal for us Hanoians. Such sadness, such regret,” wrote one person.
— Cirilo Selva (@Callagur) January 20, 2016
Another wrote: “So the Hoan Kiem Lake turtle has died. Maybe it is not a sign of bad luck. Maybe it is a sign of renewal and end of slow backwardness.”
The turtle’s body is now being kept in a temple on a small island in the lake. State media outlets said officials are trying to figure out how to proceed, adding that embalming is being considered.
Epoch Times reporter Jack Phillips contributed to this report.