October 5, 2008

Endangered Turtles Fail To Reproduce

The latest attempt to breed the world's most endangered turtles has been unsuccessful because the eggs failed to hatch, conservationists announced Saturday.

The two turtles are the species last female and last known male in China. They are 80 years old and 100 years old, respectively.

The aged pair can attempt to have offspring next year. This is part of a careful effort to keep the endangered species alive. There are only four identified Yangtze giant soft-shell turtles and three of them are male.

The only female of the species was discovered in a Chinese zoo only last year after an extensive and frantic search. She was swiftly secluded with a surveillance camera, guard and a bulletproof glass lined habitat, and given the moniker "China Girl."

A flourishing group of baby turtles would be a blessing for China. The country's labors to protect its pandas are well known, but scientists have stated about 40 percent of China's mammal species are currently in danger of extinction.

Issues such as pollution and hunting have almost obliterated the Yangtze turtles.

Conservationists were overjoyed this spring when the female and male turtles were placed together and started to mate. Artificial insemination was then decided to be too precarious.

In only a few weeks, dozens of eggs were discovered in the nesting area at the Suzhou Zoo. Conservationists anticipated potential hatchlings in early August.

"Unfortunately, none of the eggs successfully hatched this time," Stephen C. Sautner announced Saturday.

Even though more than half of the eggs appeared fertile, the embryos died early on. A statement made by the U.S.-based Turtle Survival Alliance did not specify whether the female turtle's age was a factor but instead held responsible years of a low-calcium diet.

"A number of the eggs had very thin or cracked eggshells, suggesting that the diet of the animals prior to breeding was not optimal," the statement said.

For years, the female turtle's zookeeper at the Changsha Zoo wasn't fully aware of the kind of turtle she was or that she was the last surviving one of her kind. The zoo answered an insistent plea sent to all of China's zoos, sending word that it had a female that resembled the turtle in a photo sent with the appeal.

A team of specialists from the U.S. and China equipped her for the taxing move from her home to the Suzhou Zoo, approximately 600 miles away.

"I hate to call this a desperation move, but it really was," Rick Hudson, chair of the turtle alliance, stated then.

Now, living together in Suzhou, the two elderly turtles are getting ready for a new endeavor next year by consuming a high-calcium diet of whole fish, whole crayfish and chicken necks. This is meant to produce eggs with stronger shells.

At a visit to the zoo on Saturday, the turtles were nowhere to be observed. A metal gate separated the two until the next breeding season. The male can be a too assertive otherwise, workers at the zoo clarified.

"We've worked very hard on this," said Liu Jinde, the director of the organization that supervises the zoo. "Wait until next year. We ought to succeed. The turtles are very healthy."

Jinde noted that one explanation the breeding was not successful this year was the rush to get the turtles mating shortly after the female met the male at the zoo this spring.

The turtle union is positive. Regardless of their well along ages, the two turtles "should be in top form" next year, the statement said.


Image Caption: In this photo released by Wildlife Conservation Society, a female soft-shell turtle rests near a pool inside a zoo in Suzhou, China, May 9, 2008. Breathless scientists watched as they successfully mated. But the attempt to breed an endangered turtle's last known female with China's last known male has failed because the eggs didn't hatch, disappointed conservationists say.