Environment Forum

Chinese turtle species depends on two very old zoo guests

May 23, 2008

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The fate of a Chinese species may rest on whether the turtles in this photo mate.   

Biologists believe only four Yangtze giant softshell turtles are left on the planet.  So this month they shipped a more than 80-year-old female that had been living in China’s Changsha Zoo more than 600 miles to the only known male in China, who is more than 100 years old and lives at the Suzhou Zoo.

“I hate to call this a desperation move, but it really was,” said Rick Hudson, a conservation biologist at the Fort Worth, Texas Zoo who helped coordinate the move. “With only one female known worldwide, and given that we have lost three captive specimens over the past two years, what choice did we have?”

Biologists blame hunting, pollution and rampant development for leading to the dire situation.

The good news is the female still lays eggs, but not as many as the up to 100 that younger ones do.  And although in this picture she may appear to be ignoring the male, whose head can be seen emerging from the water in the bottom right, biologists say her journey went well and that the two are getting used to each other nicely. 

Photo by Gerald Kuchling/TSA

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