Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Chinese Turtle at brink of extinction

China’s Turtles, Emblems of a Crisis

Only two remaining Giant Yangtze Soft Shell Turtles are known to exist. A male and female, both are in captivity at separate zoos:

...The agenda is simple: The turtle must not die. Earlier this year, scientists concluded that she was the planet’s last known female Yangtze giant soft-shell turtle. She is about 80 years old and weighs almost 90 pounds...As it happens, the planet also has only one undisputed, known male. He lives at a zoo in the city of Suzhou. He is 100 years old and weighs about 200 pounds. They are the last hope of saving a species believed to be the largest freshwater turtles in the world...

China contains some of the worlds richest biodiversity. Yet China's wildlife has been under unrelenting pressure due to economic development. 40 percent of animals are threatened, as well as 70 percent of non-flowering and 86 percent of flowering plants.

...“It’s a very dire situation,” said Peter Pritchard, a prominent turtle expert in the United States who has helped in trying to save the species. “This one is so big and it has such an aura of mystery...

How the turtle wound up at the zoo is an amazing story:

...Fifty-one years ago, a traveling circus performed at the new zoo in Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province in southern China. For a cash payment, the circus left behind a large female turtle. Zookeepers slipped the turtle into a large pond, where for a half-century it hibernated in winters and poked its pig-like snout above the water’s surface every spring. The walls of the zoo became the equivalent of a time capsule...Outside, the convulsions of modern Chinese history were scarring an already damaged landscape...

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