No turtle is more critically endangered than the Yangtze giant softshell turtle – only four individuals are known to exist; two in Vietnam and a breeding pair at the Suzhou Zoo in China, with both of these believed to be more than 100 years old. WCS has been working with partners to try and facilitate captive breeding with these last individuals, while also performing surveys of the Yangtze and other river systems for any last remaining wild turtles.
Whilst field surveys are ongoing, no additional wild turtles have been confirmed. Over the past year, WCS has been developing first-of-a-kind hand-held and field-friendly molecular test kit to detect environmental DNA (eDNA) from the Yangtze giant softshell turtle to search for potentially undiscovered animals that may still exist and have evaded detection by traditional methods. Our Yangtze giant softshell turtle eDNA test and methodologies have now been developed and we have shown our methodology can detect the Yangtze giant softshell turtle, as well as a variety of other turtle species we have targeted, and field-validation is now in progress.
WCS has contributed to the conservation of this species for over ten years. The international collaboration, led by the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) and WCS, works with the turtle owners the Changsha and Suzhou Zoos, the China Zoo Association, San Diego Zoo Global, and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, to prevent the extinction of this species. Since the collaboration began, despite observed breeding behavior and laying hundreds of eggs, none have been fertile. A reproductive evaluation conducted in 2015 determined that the cause of the infertility was due to a penile abnormality that prevents normal breeding. Artificial insemination is thus the best chance for further propagation of this species and WCS's veterinarians are part of a collaborative team including WCS, TSA and veterinarians from from the Changsha and Suzhou Zoo working to define optimal anesthesia and reproductive techniques. With successful natural breeding highly unlikely, artificial insemination is the last and best hope for this species survival, and we are hopeful that fertile eggs will result from these collaborative efforts.
Thumbnail softshell turtle image credit: PCalle, WCS
Banner softshell turtle image credit: