The last known female Yangtze giant soft-shell turtle laid 188 eggs this year, but none of them will be hatching.

A disappointment for turtle conservationists: The world’s only known pair of critically endangered Yangtze giant soft-shell turtles (Rafetus swinhoei) have failed to reproduce for the second consecutive year. 81-year-old “China Doll” is the last known female of the species and her 101-year-old partner is one of possibly three known males.

Although three clutches of Rafetus eggs – for a total of 188 – were laid at China’s Suzhou Zoo earlier this year, most were found to be infertile. Sadly, the few eggs that did appear to be fertilized had died during early development.

Poor nutrition and husbandry issues

In the July 17 Turtle Survival Alliance Newsletter, TSA President Rick Hudson explained that the egg problems are likely due to poor nutrition, which is believed to have been responsible for last year’s disappointment.

As was the case last year, we believe the problems stem back to poor nutrition. Despite frequent urgings and instructions from the TSA team to feed a balanced and calcium rich diet, the changes were made too late in the year to adequately impact egg and sperm production in the pair.  Supplements were provided but not enough whole fish, chicken and quail were fed to make a difference.

We must begin gearing up for 2010 and working to convince the Chinese Zoo managers to radically change the diets for these animals now.

The rare turtles also have to endure the bad manners of the Suzhou Zoo patrons, who are intentionally throwing garbage into the Rafetus breeding pool.

Another troubling issue is the lack of crowd control at Suzhou Zoo and the amounts of garbage (plastic bags, food wrappers) that are thrown into the Rafetus pools.

The female has been observed eating trash floating on the surface and we have serious concerns for her health. The solution is a high glass barrier to separate the public from the ponds, and the Zoo has agreed to this; however the cost for construction is estimated to total $35,000 US. We will launch a fund-raising campaign at the St Louis conference in August, and we hope we can count on your support.

Hope for the future

Dr. Gerarld Kuching, a TSA expert overseeing the zoo’s Rafetus activities said via Reptile Channel that the next breeding attempt for 81-year-old “China Doll” and her 101-year-old male companion will begin in April 2010.

How to help the Yangtze giant soft-shell turtle

Pollution and hunting have pushed the Yangtze giant soft-shell turtle to the very edge of extinction – and this pair is the last hope for the species.

To learn more about how you can help the Yangzte giant soft-shell turtle, visit the Turtle Survival Alliance.