Last turtle pair revives hope of survival of species

Ha Noi (Vietnam), Dec 19 : Scientists released genetic results confirming a female turtle captured in October in Vietnam is definitively the near extinct Swinhoe’s softshell turtle — also known as the Yangtze giant soft shell turtle and Hoan Kiem turtle.

At a workshop here on Friday, scientists revealed that genetic testing has confirmed a female turtle captured on October 22 in Dong Mo Lake is definitively a Swinhoe’s softshell turtle.

This confirmation means there is now one known male Swinhoe’s softshell turtle at Suzhou Zoo in China; and the captured one is female. A pair is now known to exist.

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Authorities believe there is at least one more of these turtles in Dong Mo Lake and another in nearby Xuan Khanh Lake.

Conservationists hope to capture and determine the sex of the other turtles in both Dong Mo and Xuan Khanh Lakes this coming spring.

Ultimately, conservationists aim to ensure at least one male and female are given a chance to breed to ensure this species can return from the brink of extinction.

Nguyen Huy Dang, Deputy Director of Ha Noi Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said: “This is a very important mission and it needs to be done effectively. We have been seeking advice and consultation from the Ha Noi People’s Committee to promulgate guiding documents and collaboration with international organization to execute our development and conservation plan of Rafetus Swinhoei.”

“The department of Ha Noi Fisheries continues to implement the Plan #200 from the Ha Noi People’s Committee to revive and preserve the Swinhoe’s softshell turtle, a rare, precious and endangered species in the red book of Vietnam and in the world.”

Timothy McCormack, Program Director of the Asian Turtle Program of Indo-Myanmar Conservation, said: “It is so important that we are taking these steps, confirming the sex of the identified animals, and in the case of the animal in Xuan Khanh Lake, confirming the species, as currently this has only been based on environmental DNA.

“Once we know the sex of the animals in Vietnam, we can make a clear plan on the next steps. Hopefully we have a male and a female, in which case breeding and recovery of the species becomes a real possibility. At the same time our surveys in other areas of Vietnam suggest other animals might still survive in the wild, we need to be looking at bringing these together as part of the broader conservation plan for the species.”

Said WCS Vietnam Country Director Hoang Bich Thuy: “In a year full of bad news and sadness across the globe, the discovery of this female can offer all some hope that this species will be given another chance to survive. Over hunting and habitat destruction have contributed to the demise of this species. In Vietnam, with the leadership of the government, we are determined to take responsibility to give this species another chance.”

Previous to this discovery, there had been a major effort to breed the two known remaining members of the species.

Then, the last known female Swinhoe’s softshell turtle died on April 13, 2019, during recovery from anaesthesia after an artificial insemination procedure in Suzhou in China.

The male and female turtles, which had failed to produce offspring naturally since they were brought together in 2008, were determined to be healthy for the procedure, and similar anaesthesia procedures had previously been performed without incident.

When the female died, the hope for the species turned to the possibility of additional turtles in two different lakes in Vietnam — Dong Mo Lake and Xuan Khanh Lake.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-generated from IANS service.

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