Scientists in China are working to save the world’s largest freshwater turtle, which is on the verge of extinction, with only four known to be alive. Once prevalent in the Yangtze River and other parts of China and Vietnam, the Yangtze giant softshell turtle population was decimated by human encroachment and poaching, as their shells are used in Chinese medicine. A male-female pair, now living in Suzhou, is the species’ only hope for continuation, but so far scientists have had little luck breeding them. National Geographic reports:
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.
Researchers can’t pinpoint the reason for the infertility, but they suspect a combination of factors, including poor sperm quality due to the male’s age—roughly a hundred—an improper mating posture, and stress on the female.
Because the turtles are the last in captivity and too much human interaction could kill them, sperm samples cannot be taken nor tests run. Still, scientists are hoping that this year will be the lucky one.
“The resurrection of this iconic species in the wild, the largest freshwater turtle in the world, would be a symbol of hope,” said Gerald Kuchling, founder of the Australia-based group Turtle Conservancy and a turtle-reproduction expert. [Source]
Read more about the turtles from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.