MNN Galleries

8 species on life support

By: Bryan Nelson on Feb. 6, 2013, 11:07 a.m.
Yangtze giant softshell turtle

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

5 of 10

Yangtze giant softshell turtle

The Yangtze giant softshell turtle is the largest freshwater turtle in the world. Unfortunately, it is also the world's rarest. Only four specimens are known to exist in the world: two inhabit separate lakes in Vietnam, and two others reside at Suzhou Zoo in China. Only one of the four is female, meaning that the survival of the species rests entirely on her capacity to breed.

Luckily, the female is one of the two specimens living at the Suzhou Zoo, and she has successfully mated with the resident male. However, so far none of the fertilized eggs has survived long enough to hatch. Scientists are working to improve conditions at the enclosure to improve the odds that a brood will survive.

The species was once widespread throughout the Yangtze River network in China, but eventually fell victim to widespread pollution, development and hunting.