Contributing Monkie Jennifer Buonantony
Published on June 4, 2008
It’s a twist on the standard doomed love story: instead of two beings desperately wanting to be together who shouldn’t, we have two beings who desperately need to hook up but probably won’t. For ridiculous reasons.
For once, abstinence has dire consequences.
It’s bad enough that China had to say goodbye to the Yangtze River dolphin last year when the species was declared extinct. But without immediate action, the fate of the Yangtze giant soft-shell turtle will be the same.
The Yangtze giant soft-shell turtle is considered to be one of the largest freshwater turtles in the world. It is characterized by a wide, flat shape, leathery carapace (shell), and a deep head with a pig-like snout. Normally found in large river systems — specifically the Yangtze River in eastern China — they are, as of this writing, the rarest turtle in the world. The severity of their situation was first brought to light in the early 1990s, and in 2004 it was believed only six turtles remained.
Today, there only two — one male and one female. Which means future of the species literally lies with them.
The male turtle is approximately 100 years old, over 200 pounds and resides in a zoo in the city of Suzhou. The female is 80 years of age, 90 pounds and has been at a zoo in Changsha for over fifty years. As reported in the New York Times, “Neither (turtle) has commingled with the opposite sex in decades, if ever. And even, more problematic, neither zoo is willing to let its turtle go.”
It is sad to think that the fate of the Yangtze giant soft-shell turtle is in the hands of zoos that are more worried about losing their own precious tourist commodities than they are about the well-being and impending extinction of the species. Even more difficult to swallow is the fact that since 2004, negotiations between varying zoos, government agencies and environmental groups were so halted by political and economic agendas that four of the six turtles died before agreements to breed the turtles even came to fruition.
Now with only two remaining, conservationists everywhere are on the edge of their seats, wondering if the fate of these creatures will be lost indefinitely by a lack of action.
While an agreement was recently reached, what remains in question is whether or not it’s too late. Bot the Changsha and Suzhou zoos have agreed that scientists can attempt artificial insemination next spring when the female turtle will next lay her eggs, a resolution that allows each zoo to keep its turtle. However, the procedure is still months away and there is no guarantee the procedure will work. Females turtles typically lay between 60 and 100 eggs, but because of her age, the female Yangtze eggs have steadily diminished to about 20 in recent years. In addition, a female tortoise in Hawaii died while undergoing a similar insemination procedure. Another concern is being able to get a viable sperm sample from the elderly male without injuring him.
Sadly, the Yangtze turtle and dolphin crises highlight a bigger problem within China. As highlighted by the World Conservation Union, “China is a country with a remarkably high number of species and remarkably high number of species not found anywhere else.” Yet, so many of these species have become endangered or lost, as China’s economy and industry continues to grow at an alarming pace for environmentalists.
Until protecting wildlife becomes a priority, species like the Yangtze turtles will continue to suffer. In a culture where the turtle traditionally symbolizes health and longevity, it might be time for China to re-examine its conservation efforts.