Rafetus swinhoei (Gray)

Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei)  

The story of the demise of this species is well recorded and very sad, I’d like to make it as short as possible here.:  


The Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle was discovered and described (for the western world) at the end of the 19th century. The species was already rare then and had a disjunct distribution with one population inhabiting the Yangtze River catchment area in southern China, and another one the catchments of the Yuan River in northern Vietnam.  

The species can reach a length of up to 1 m and can weigh up to 70 to 100 kg, some individuals were even larger and heavier. It is extremely secretive and only rarely comes up to breathe, largely preferring to stay submerged deep underwater.  


Like all turtle species in Asia, also the Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle has always been hunted not only for consumption but also for the use of several of its body parts in the Chinese medicine, another tread is the loss of suitable habitat, not at least by water pollution.  

In 2016, to my knowledge, only five individuals were known to exist, among them a single female ….  


Several efforts were undertaken to breed the species in captivity, one included an over 80 years old female being introduced to a 100 year old male in the Suzhou Zoo in China in 2008, this female produced hundreds of eggs, most of them infertile, those few that were fertile perished before hatching because their shells were too thin.  

This last known female died today, April 13th, 2019, leaving the species functionally extinct unless, however, a fertile female might be found somewhere in the wild, but this is extremely unlikely to ever happen.  


Depiction from: “J. R. Gray: Notes on Chinese mud-tortoises (Trionychidae), with the description of a new species sent to the British Museum by Mr. Swinhoe, and observations on the male organ of this family. The Annals and Magazine of Natural History; Zoology, Botany, and Geology Ser. 4. 12(67-72): 156-161. 1873”  

(not in copyright)


edited: 20.04.2019