Saturday 29 April 2023

Rafetus swinhoei: Last known female Swinhoe's Softshell Turtle has died, bringing the species to the brink of extinction.

The last known female Swinhoe's Softshell Turtle, Rafetus swinhoei, has died. The Turtle, which was 1.56 m long and weighed 93 kg was found dead at Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Sunday 23 April 2023, by a volunteer with a local Turtle conservation program. A necropsy will be carried out to determine the cause of death (the term 'autopsy' is reserved for investigations of Human deaths). The Hoan Kiem Turtle was confirmed to be female during a capture-release survey in 2020, bringing hopes that it might be possible to start a breeding program for the species; the previous last known female died in a zoo in China in 2016, having never laid any eggs, despite mating with a male owned by the zoo several times.

The Hoan Kiem Lake Swinhoe's Softshell Turtle in 2016. Asian Turtle Program.

Swinhoe's Softshell Turtles were formerly known from two geographic regions, the Yangtze River Basin in China and the Red River Basin in Vietnam (fossil specimens suggest the species had a wider range in the Pleistocene and Early Holocene), but the population has been effectively wiped out in both areas, due to hunting, egg collecting, and habitat modification by Humans. The global population now comprises a single male population in Suzhou Zoo in Jiangsu Province, China, and a second male known only from environmental DNA in Xuan Khanh Lake near Hanoi.

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