Yangtze giant softshell turtle: the species is now considered extinct



by LORENZO CIOTTI

Yangtze giant softshell turtle: the species is now considered extinct

The Yangtze giant softshell turtle is a very rare turtle of the Trionychid family found in China and Vietnam. It is also called the Red River giant softshell turtle, Shanghai softshell turtle, or Swinhoe softshell turtle. Only three specimens are known and consequently, on the IUCN Red List, it is classified as critically endangered.

Scientists had hoped that the pair bred at the Suzhou Zoo would be able to reproduce, but the female preserved at the Suzhou Zoo died on April 15, 2019, leaving little hope for saving the species from extinction. The other two remaining specimens, of which the genus is unknown, live free in Vietnam; some scholars consider the Vietnamese population, known as the Hoan Kiem Lake tortoise, a separate species.

But, as we told in our previous article, on April 21, the lifeless body of one of the last female Yangtze giant softshell turtles was found in Dong Mo Lake in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi. Local media have informed that it is the last female specimen of this very rare and much loved species.

The Yangtze giant softshell tortoise measured about 1.56 meters long and weighed 93 kilograms, as VnExpress reported. Now, with her death, the total of these very rare turtles has been reduced to just three male specimens, two of which live in China and one in Hanoi's Xuân Khanh lake.

In the Dong Mo lake, where the last female lived, the scientists had created an artificial beach to favor the possible spawning, but in ten years that has never happened. Yet there should be a male, as evidenced by the environmental DNA detected through genetic investigations.

The Yangtze giant softshell turtle lived in the Yangtze River and Taihu Lake, located on the border of Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces in eastern China, and in Gejiu, Yuanyang, Jianshui and Honghe localities in of Yunnan, in southern China.

The last specimen in the wild that we know of was captured in 1998 in the Red River, between Yuanyang and Jianshui, and was immediately released into the wild. Only four known specimens survive in Vietnam and China, two in Vietnam, respectively in Hoan Kiem Lake and in Son Tay (near Hanoi), and the other two in the Suzhou Zoo, in China.

The Yangtze giant softshell turtle has been driven to the brink of extinction by habitat destruction, subsistence hunting and local consumption, and the use of its carapace and bones in medicine. His skull is often displayed as a trophy.

In China, another risk factor is constituted by a recent project for the construction of a hydroelectric plant on the Red River consisting of 12 dams: the implementation of the project would involve the flooding of the entire range of the species and would change the species forever. lowland ecosystem of Vietnam.