A female Swinhoe’s softshell turtle was found late in 2020, which means the last known male male is no longer alone. Weighing 83kg, the female turtle was found in the Dong Mo Lake in Hanoi, Vietnam. When the female was captured, a health check was done and a microchip was inserted. Blood samples were drawn and several other tests were performed; genetic testing began in November of last year.
The Swinhoe’s softshell turtle, (Rafetus swinhoei), is the most endangered turtle in the world. One of the reasons the Hoan Kiem turtle has been put in danger is because for many years they have been hunted for its meat and eggs. Its eggs were collected and soaked in salt, as people in China believed turtle salted egg helped cure diarrhoea. Al this has been coupled with a gradual yet persistent destruction of their habitat.
The giant male currently lives at Suzhou Zoo in China, and some experts believe that there could be at least one more turtle – known as the Yangtze giant softshell turtle or Hoan Kiem – in the Xuan Khanh Lake. Scientists are hoping that this spring one male and female are given a chance to breed and ensure the survival of the species, which currently sits on the brink of extinction.
“This is the best news of the year, and quite possibly the last decade, for global turtle conservation,” said Andrew Walde, from the Turtle Survival Alliance. Walde has worked as an advisor to the Vietnamese government on the conservation project.
Given that the Swinhoe’s softshell turtle is the most endangered turtle on the planet, resources have been allocated to try to preserve it. Before finding the large female, there had been some efforts to breed the two known remaining members of the species. Unfortunately, the female died in April 2019 while recovering from anaesthesia after having undergone artificial insemination in China.
Swinhoe’s softshell turtle was given legal protection in Vietnam in 2013. A report in 2018 showed that turtles were among the most endangered of all the major vertebrate groups, with more than 50% of the 356 species threatened or already extinct. The causes are destruction of habitat, hunting for food and traditional medicine, the illegal pet trade and pollution. Freshwater species have been hit hardest by human action. Their average population sizes have been down by 84% since 1970, due in part to the enormous thirst of agriculture and the large number of dams.