The Death Of 'China Girl' May Spell The End For Her Entire Species

The 90-year-old Yangtze giant softshell turtle, known as "China Girl", was the last female of her kind that scientists are aware of and her death may spell the end of the entire species.

The turtle was one of four known individuals remaining of the critically endangered species. She reportedly died following an artificial insemination attempt.

She was housed in the Suzhou Zoo in southern China with one 100-year-old male and the zoo made ongoing efforts to breed the pair with no success.

The artificial insemination was the fifth time staff had attempted to impregnate her.

Yangtze giant softshell turtle in Suzhou Zoo. Source: Getty.

While this turtle is being commonly referred to in reports as the last female of her kind, there are two individuals in the wild in Vietnam that researchers do not know the sex of.

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The Yangtze softshell turtle was once thought to be exclusively found in China's Yangtze River but one individual in Vietnam was discovered by chance after fuzzy footage of it surfaced in 1998 in Hanoi's Hoan Kiem Lake.

Vietnamese scientists initially believed that the giant turtle was an entirely new species but a paper published in 2003 genetically tested the lake and asserted that the individual was a Yangtze turtle.

Conservationists catch Yangtze giant softshell turtle for artificial insemination attempt in Souzhou Zoo. Source: Getty.

Known as Cụ Rùa, the turtle became a popular attraction but suffered terribly from pollution in the lake and was driven to unusual behaviours. One video posted in 2011 captures the giant allegedly eating a cat underwater.

Despite efforts to clean the lake for the turtle and encourage him to occupy cleaner water around a small artificial island in the lake, Cụ Rùa died in 2016. Researchers believe the turtle was more than 100 years old.

Since Cụ Rùa's death, two other Yangtze turtles have been identified in Vietnam waterways through environmental DNA testing, with the latest one found in early 2018.

However, both of the bodies of water that the turtles were discovered in are commercial fishing sites, so there are grave fears for the safety of the creatures.

Conservationists capture a Yangtze giant softshell turtle for artificial insemination procedure in Suzhou Zoo. Source: Getty.

Conservationists working with the Asian Turtle Program are attempting to establish the lakes as protected habitats and there have been discussions about transferring one of the turtles to Suzhou Zoo in another breeding attempt.

The Yangtze softshell turtle is the largest freshwater turtle in the world and can measure over a metre in length and weigh up to 100 kilograms.

The greatest threat to the turtle's continued survival in the wild are the dangers of commercial fishing, as well as hunting for meat.