World’s Largest Freshwater Turtle Nearly Extinct

The last known pair of Yangtze giant softshell turtles mated again in June.

by Katilin Solomine

The fate of a species is resting on the shells of two turtles at China’s Suzhou Zoo.

In June, researchers collected eggs from the last mating pair of the critically endangered Yangtze giant softshell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) in the hopes that at least one will be fertile.

The 220-pound (100-kilogram) freshwater giant, which spends most of its life burrowing in mud, was once common in its namesake Yangtze River, China’s Lake Taihu and Yunnan Province, and parts of Vietnam.

By the late 1990s, however, human encroachment and poaching for use of the shells in Chinese traditional medicine rapidly depleted the population. Now, a total of four animals are known—two wild males in Vietnam and the mating pair at Suzhou Zoo.

It’s the team’s sixth year of breeding the turtles at the zoo, which is not far from Shanghai. So far, none of the eggs have hatched…

(read more: National Geo)

Photograph from Vietnam News Agency/AFP/Getty Images

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