Friday, October 10, 2008

Endangered Yangtze giant soft shell turtle

The Yangtze giant soft shell turtle happens to be one of the rarest and largest fresh water turtles in the world. The species population has reduced over time mainly because of pollution and hunting. Currently, the oldest and only female known is the last hope for the species; she resides in a zoo in Southern China. This endangered animal is currently 80 years old. Scientists have made an attempt to have it mate with one of three of the oldest males known in the species, who is 100 years old. The first attempt was somewhat successful for the two, which haven’t seen a mate in close to a century. The female produced close to 100 eggs, but only half were fertilized. The eggs didn’t survive because some of the eggshells were extremely thin or cracked. Scientists believe this mishap was a side effect of the female’s diet at the zoo that consisted mainly of beef. In the wild the typical diet of a Yangtze giant soft shell turtle consists of crayfish, other types of fish, snails, and crabs. Scientists are planning another attempt for the two to mate during the next mating season in May 2009 and hopefully it will produce healthy offspring and hopefully keep the species alive for years to come.

Check out this video to get more information


In general, the age range of sexual maturity among turtle species vary, some species mature as early as three years whereas others range from 20 to 50 years. Interestingly, sexual maturity correlates with shell size especially in males. The trend tends to be that the larger the shell size the earlier sexually maturity occurs.

The Yangtze soft shell turtle in China symbolize health and longevity because they are believed to be holy and connected to God since they are able to live for so long. As a result, people eat the turtles because they believe they will live longer too and that it’s a sign of good luck. In addition to being hunted these turtles are suffering from pollution and economic expansion that has destroyed nearly half of the wetlands. Most people within those societies don’t realize how truly endangered these animals really are. Currently there are two of these animals in China in zoos, a male and a female. In addition, recently two males were discovered in Vietnam.

Posted by: Joanne Philippeaux (4)


At 10:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love sea turtles! I was fortunate enough to swim with wild ones when I was in Hawaii. They are so beutiful and old. This story was so cute! I hope that they are able to mate. Iv'e always heard that sea turtles live a long time, but I had no idea they could be 100 and still reproductivly active! Is there any age in their lives when females or males become incapable of reproducing?

Mia DiFabbio

At 12:47 PM, Blogger PWH said...

Sea turtles are such beautiful animals and it is really sad that there is only one female of this species left that is known. It says that they think the mating was not successful because of her diet and I find it ridiculous that they are feeding her beef when that is not the normal diet. Does it say why they would do this? I would imagine that in a zoo they would try to feed the animals food that they would normally eat so it shocked me that they do not. Do you know if there are any laws that say that animals in captivity need to be feed and treated in certain ways?

-Tara Quist

At 9:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How many individuals are left in the total population? If there is only one female left alive, than it appears to me that sadly, the species is probably doomed. I'm fairly sure that with only one surviving female, the species would be classified as "funtionally extinct", meaning that even though there are surviving individuals, there is not enough genetic diversity left for the species to successfully carry on. Any attempts to repopulate the species would almost require the species to inbreed by the third or fourth generation, posing a high risk of genetic disease. I really hope I'm wrong, it would be terrible if the species could not survive with all the effort being put in by such devoted people.

-Corinne Delisle (4)

At 9:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it possible for there to be a "hidden" population somewhere, that has a female of reproductive age? I know they are engendered, but perhaps there is something else there. (Like the coelocanth) Or maybe optimistic since there is only one known female of that species left. Did the article mention how old they typically live to, and how long they can successfully reproduce until? Perhaps next mating session they will have better luck, because the "juices" are flowing, and it now has been a year since the last try, not a century. You know the saying, use it or lose it. Maybe it implies?

Katie Cole

At 2:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's great that scientists are trying to prevent the extinction of a sea turtle species. It's weird that the zoo wasn't already feeding the sea turtle food that it naturally ate in the wild. I'm assuming that they changed the turtles' diets to prepare for the next mating season and I hope the eggs are healthier this time.

Amy Kawazoe

At 5:15 PM, Blogger PWH said...

since this species of sea turtles is going extinct why don't they try genetic cloning like they have done with dogs and sheep and then release them with other sea turtles? they should have been smarter the first time by feeding it the right diet, what a waste of a hundred eggs. don't they have younger females they can work with?

Lysander Ning

At 6:25 PM, Blogger PWH said...

I think that this article is a great example of the idea of what species we should save. At this point in time do you think that it would be worth it to put thousands of dollars into trying to save a species with an extremely low chance of survival and of actually making a comeback? I think that at this point as unfortunate as it would be to lose another species that the scientists should say we tried to bring this species back but there are other species that need to be saved. There are so many other species that are coming close to extinction but have a much higher chance of being saved and I think that the resources should be put towards those. What do you think?

Posted by: Lindsay Goodyear (4)

At 7:32 PM, Blogger PWH said...

I was wondering why the zoo workers fed her a diet primarily of beef if they knew what the proper diet should have been.

-Benjamin Spozio

At 8:05 PM, Blogger PWH said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 8:05 PM, Blogger PWH said...

It's amazing how old these turtles are. How many individuals are known to be alive? What in the diet of these turtles helps produce strong eggshells? Is their sexual activity affected by their age?

Rob Lubenow

At 9:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe by discovering the possible reason for the weak eggs the scientists will be able to get the turtles to breed successfully next time. Did the article mention any kind of tests/experiments done to eliminate all other possibilities for the weak eggs?
Has this species ever been successfully bred in captivity?

Allan Eldridge

At 10:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is very interesting. It seems that more and more these days you hear about human health and fertility being negatively affected by a poor diet and all sorts of pollutants and hormones. However this is the first I have heard about animals being affected as well. Hopefully the next breeding attempt is a success! Nice job.

Ericka Adey

At 11:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was surprising to know that sea turtles can still be reproductively active at age 100! But if there's only one female left, then the gene pool's extremely limited, and the reproductive success for future generations will be very low. How will this species survive? Also, why did the zoo feed them beef instead of their normal diet? It is sad to know that they may as well be the next species to go extinct.

Hanbing Guo

At 11:04 PM, Blogger PWH said...

Nice article! I was curious to know if age had anything to do with the condition of the unfertilized/unhealthy eggs? I can understand were diet can play a huge role in healthy eggs but these turtles seem very old. Maybe their reproductive systems can not work properly. I don't know much about turtles but I think their are also other factors invovled in the unsuccessful attempt to reproduce.

-Carlos Varela

At 11:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sea turtles have always fascinated me and I believe they are one of the most beautiful animals especially when they are in the own natural habitats. I was wondering did the beef diet cause chemical or hormonal levels to change which later affected the eggs that she produced after mating?

- Debbie Theodat

At 11:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First of all I just want to say, why would a turtle be eating cow??? That just seems so unnatural, but in regards to the mating this is definitely a lot of pressure on one female turtle, but they have been around for so long that we cannot help but wonder how many turtles have gone extinct and whether this is the fault of human beings or just the natural progression of the world... either way, it is hopeful that this one mating can continue a species so on the brink of extinction.

-Alicia Stein

At 11:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow that is so cool how they are trying to save this species of soft shell turtles. But I don’t know how successful this attempt might be, because if they were successful in having this female turtle give birth to healthy offspring then will the offspring be left in the Zoo. I mean wouldn’t the offspring also die off if they were let back in there natural environment because the earth is still polluted and there are still going to be hunters right. If they were are going to be left in the zoo then for how long, I don’t see the earth we live in changing its ways anytime soon! By the way thanks for the video.

-Tenzing Y. Dundutsang

At 7:54 AM, Blogger PWH said...

When I was a young child, I loved to listen to a story of turtles. This story is amazing. I did not think old female turtles could have their offspring. I guess they can. Hopefully, next mating time people who are working in the zoo can prepare better so they can get more offspring of the turtle.

So Jin Lee


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