Last female of world's rarest turtle species dies in Chinese zoo

Animal Experts Operate Artificial Insemination For Rafetus Swinhoei

Yangtze turtle on brink of extinction with death of last known female in China

Yangtze giant softshell turtles originated in China, making their homes in the Yangtze River and Taihu Lake, according to the People's Daily.

The world's rarest turtle has moved a step closer to extinction after a female specimen died in a Chinese zoo, leaving behind just three known members of the species.

The 90-year-old female was one of only four Yangtze giant softshell turtles left on the planet.

Local staff and worldwide experts had attempted to artificially inseminate the female 24 hours before she died. She was symbolically linked to a legend about a turtle deity that helped a Vietnamese hero fight Chinese invaders.

The female turtle, believed to be more than 90 years old, died on Saturday more than 24 hours after local staff, together with global experts, attempted to artificially inseminate her, local newspaper the Suzhou Daily reported.

The turtle died at the Suzhou Zoo in East China's Jiangsu province after an artificial insemination attempt, the China Daily reported.

Scientists announced in 2015 that they would be trying to artificially inseminate the female at Suzhou zoo, as a last-ditch effort to save what is often referred to as the most endangered turtle in the world.

The male Yangtze giant softshell, now over 100, is still housed at the zoo but the other two remaining creatures are living in the wild in Vietnam and their gender is unknown. Their genders are not known.

Suzhou Zoo had tried unsuccessfully for years to get their pair of turtles to mate and reproduce naturally.

The city's government said experts were collecting the turtle's ovarian tissue for future research. A necropsy will be performed as well.

The species, Rafetus swinhoei, is one of the world's biggest and rarest freshwater turtles, can live to more than 160 years old and can have two to three litters each year, Shanghai-based news site The Paper reported.

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