The lifeless body of one of the last remaining Yangtze giant softshell turtles was found on April 21 at Đồng Mô Lake in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi, according to Vietnamese media. It’s been widely reported that this was the last female of the species, effecting dooming the much-loved species into extinction.
The deceased turtle measured around 1.56 meters long (5 feet and 1 inch) and weighed 93 kilograms (57 pounds) VnExpress reports.
Now this pig-nosed individual has passed, the total population of the species is now down to just three males: two living in China and another in Hanoi’s Xuân Khanh Lake.
"Its cause of death has yet to be confirmed," Phung Huy Vinh, head of the economic department of Son Tay Town, told VnExpress.
The death was later confirmed by the head of the Asian Turtle Program for Indo-Myanmar Conservation, who explained the individual was the last female.
“It is the same individual that we’ve been monitoring in recent years. It’s a real blow,” Tim McCormack, director of the Asian Turtle Program for Indo-Myanmar Conservation, told TIME.
“It was a large female that obviously has great reproductive capacity. She could have potentially laid a hundred eggs or more a year,” added McCormack.
Back in 2019, it was reported that the world’s last known female Yangtze giant softshell turtle died after a failed attempt at artificial insemination in China. However, it transpired that a female was living across the border in Vietnam, raising hopes for the animal’s future.
It looks like those dreams have been dashed – for now, at least. It’s still possible that other individuals, both male and female, of the elusive species could still be out there, but there’s no certainty.
Yangtze giant softshell turtles, also known as Hoàn Kiếm turtles and Swinhoe's softshell turtles, are the largest species of freshwater turtle on Earth. They once thrived throughout northern Vietnam and southern China, but have since succumbed to over-hunting and habitat loss.
The unusual turtle holds a huge cultural significance in Vietnam. Although there’s some debate, it’s believed the Yangtze giant softshell turtles were the inspiration behind the legend of Kim Quy, a mythical golden turtle god that appears in several Vietnamese legends. It’s said this figure often appears at frequent intervals throughout Vietnamese history to help ward off foreign enemies invading the land.
Given its tight ties to the history of Vietnam, the loss of this individual is no doubt being felt across the country.