Yangtze giant softshell turtle: Last-known female of extremely rare species dies

15 April 2019, 10:56 | Updated: 15 April 2019, 13:46

An extremely rare species of turtle is facing extinction after the last-known female of its kind died at a zoo in southern China.

The Yangtze giant softshell turtle, one of only four known to be left in the world, died at Suzhou zoo on Saturday, the city's government said in a statement, quoting the facility.

The site also houses a male of the species, but the gender of the other two - both in Vietnam - is not known.

Experts had tried to artificially inseminate the creature, which was over 90 years old, for a fifth time shortly before she died.

The reptile was found to be in good health prior to the procedure, which appeared to go smoothly, the paper said, but it died the following day.

A research team comprised of domestic and international experts will carry out a post-mortem examination to establish the cause of death.

Ovarian tissue samples were collected to be stored "for future use", The Suzhou Daily reported.

The species, whose Latin name is Rafetus swinhoei, is critically endangered due to hunting, overfishing and the destruction of its habitat.

The animals are native to China and found in the Yangtze River and Taihu Lake, according to the state-run People's Daily.

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) calls the Yangtze giant softshell turtle the world's most critically endangered turtle species and claims it is facing extinction due to hunting as well as habitat destruction.

On its website, the agency says turtles as a whole are set to be extinct because of humans who eat them, keep them as pets and use their shells in traditional Chinese medicine.

"The illegal pet and food trade has threatened more than 80% population of turtles and tortoise species," it adds.