A Yangtze giant softshell turtle. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

A female Yangtze giant softshell turtle — the last female of her species — was artificially inseminated at a zoo in China with help from the San Diego Zoo.

The 100-year-old female at the Suzhou Zoo is one of only four of her species left. There is also a male at that zoo, and two males in Vietnam.

“We had to find out if the last known male in China no longer produces viable sperm due to old age or an inability to inseminate the female,” said Dr. Gerald Kuchling, organizer of the artificial insemination effort for the nonprofit Turtle Survival Alliance.

The male turtle had damaged sex organs, perhaps due to a fight decades ago. But Dr. Barbara Durrant, director of reproductive physiology at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, said it turned out that half of the male turtle’s semen was viable.

This attempt marks the first time artificial insemination has been tried with any softshell turtle species and, based on results of insemination attempts with other turtles, the odds are not good for success. With natural breeding unsuccessful however, the scientists felt it was time to explore this option.

Both turtles recovered from the procedure in good condition. The female will lay the eggs in a few weeks and in a couple of weeks after that, the scientists will know if the eggs are fertile.

The San Diego Zoo participated in the breeding effort through San Diego Zoo Global, whose mission is bringing species back from the brink of extinction.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.