Zoo officials have been trying to breed China Girl since 2009.
China Girl, the last known female Yangtze giant soft-shell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) left in the world, has died. Officials with the Suzhou Zoo were attempting an artificial insemination of the chelonian when she passed away. It was estimated that she was more than 90 years old.
Photo courtesy Gerald Kuchling
China Girl was brought to the Suzhou Zoo in 2008. Attempts to breed her since 2009 have all been unsuccessful.
“Waking up to the news of this female’s death was like being kicked in the gut," Rick Hudson, president of the Turtle Survival Alliance said on the TSA web page. "While the loss of this female is both sad and tragic, we simply had no choice but to try. This species had become the poster child for what can happen when we don’t recognize and address species’ declines rapidly. We must intensify our efforts. My heart goes out to our team in China who did everything they could to ensure that this female contributed to the survival of her species. They are all heroes in my book.”
The Suzhou Zoo, along with the Turtle Survival Alliance, had been trying to breed her without success since 2008. On July 3, 2009, she laid 64 eggs, all of which were not viable. On July 14 she laid an additional 67 eggs, which were also infertile. China Girl underwent four attempts at artificial insemination since 2015, all without success and without incident. This attempt, she did not recover normally and passed away, according to the TSA.
There are two known Yangtze giant soft-shell turtles in Vietnam, both living in separate lakes. Their sex is unknown. Conservationists are working with the Vietnamese government in an effort to locate these reptiles in hopes that they can be successfully bred.
The Yangtze giant soft-shell turtle is native to China and Vietnam. There are only five known living individuals, three of which are males in captivity, and the two in Vietnam that are in the wild. The species is now functionally extinct, unless a female in the wild is located and successfully bred.