Finding the Rarest of the Rare:
WCS’ eDNA Tests to Find & Save Endangered Species
Implementation of an environmental DNA testing to help save the Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle. Environmental DNA (eDNA) can be used as a forensic tool to detect rare species in environmental samples such as soil, water and air rather than directly from an individual organism. We have recently developed a new smartphone-based eDNA kit to detect critically-endangered Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle DNA from water samples. This turtle species is a cultural icon in Vietnam and the rarest turtle in the world. Only four living individuals are known to exist (two in Viet Nam and two in China). This quick, portable and field-friendly platform for eDNA testing brings new hope for finding more of these rare turtles in the wild. Our test allows us to rapidly collect and screen lake samples for turtle DNA right at the water source. In April of 2018, we deployed and tested our new eDNA in Viet Nam. During this process, we conducted a training workshop to teach research conservationists from the Asian Turtle Program - Indo Myanmar Conservation (ATP), the Central Institute for Natural Resources and Environmental Studies (CRES) and the Wildlife Conservation Society - Viet Nam program (WCS Viet Nam), how to use this new tool and adapt these portable field test kits to augment their existing surveys to find more Yangtze giant softshell turtles. New turtles that we find will significantly increase the total world population and provide hope that successful breeding of the remaining animals may help save the species from extinction.