Largest freshwater turtle species doomed to extinction after last female washes up dead

There are currently just two male Yangtze gigantic softshell turtles remaining in the known population. If the female had lived, experts claimed that she may have "laid a hundred eggs or more a year."

The last known female of the Yangtze giant softshell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei), the biggest freshwater turtle in the world and one of the most endangered species on Earth, washed ashore dead in Vietnam. As a result, the species is now practically destined for extinction.

The female turtle was found dead on the beaches of Dong Mo Lake in Hanoi's Son Tay district on April 21. She was around 5 feet (1.5 meters) long and weighed 205 pounds (93 kilograms). The turtle probably passed just a few days prior, but the exact reason of death is still a mystery, according to the Vietnamese news website VNExpress.

In October 2020, a female Yangtze gigantic softshell turtle was just discovered. There were no additional female Yangtze giant softshell turtles known to exist at the time; the final female of the species had passed away in April 2019 at the Suzhou Zoo in China following an unsuccessful effort at artificial fertilization.

Conservationists had thought that the deceased turtle belonged to another unidentified female and that the recognized female may still be alive in the lake when it was discovered last month. But specialists now affirm that this is untrue.

Tim McCormack, head of the Asian Turtle Program for Indo-Myanmar Conservation, told TIME magazine that "it is the same individual that we have been monitoring in recent years." It is a serious blow.

There are currently just two male R. swinhoei species still living, one at the Suzhou Zoo and the other still living in Dong Mo Lake.

The female and male at Dong Mo Lake were expected to eventually marry and lay a clutch of eggs, according to researchers. The female was presumably several decades old, which meant it was probably sexually mature, based on its size.

It was a huge female with a clearly high reproductive capability, according to McCormack. She could have produced a hundred eggs or more year. Even though scientists created a man-made nesting beach near the lake for the female to use if she ever needed to, the pair never mated.

Hoan Kiem turtles and Swinhoe's softshell turtles, commonly known as Yangtze gigantic softshell turtles, originally populated the whole Yangtze River in China as well as the nearby freshwater environments, such as Dong Mo Lake. According to the Asian Turtle Program, people used to kill turtles for their meat in the past, which led to the loss of the majority of their natural habitat.

In the future, it's possible that additional men and females may be discovered. After all, this female did manage to avoid capture for a while. R. swinhoei, however, will soon be added to the ever-growing list of species that have been wiped out by humans if a second female cannot be identified in the wild.