Home of the largest freshwater turtle in the world

This genus encompasses some of the most critically endangered turtles in the world, with its members residing exclusively in eastern and southern China and northern Vietnam. This genus includes the Yangtze giant softshell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei), which holds the tragic distinction of being one of the planet’s most endangered species, with only five or six known individuals remaining globally. This sparse population includes a solitary turtle in China and three or four in Vietnam, underscoring the precarious situation of their survival.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has categorized the Yangtze giant softshell turtle as critically endangered, a status that reflects the dire circumstances following the death of a wild individual in Vietnam in January 2016 and a captive individual in China in 2019. The situation became even more alarming when the last known breeding female died in April 2019 at the Suzhou Zoo in China, delivering a significant blow to conservation efforts aimed at saving this species from extinction. However, a glimmer of hope emerged with the sighting of a female in the wild in Vietnam on October 22, 2020, sparking renewed interest and efforts in conservation activities.

The Rafetus genus also includes the Euphrates softshell turtle (Rafetus euphraticus), which, while not as critically endangered as its counterpart, still faces significant threats primarily from habitat loss and alteration, pollution, and by-catch in fishing operations. These threats highlight freshwater turtles’ broader environmental challenges, emphasizing the need for comprehensive conservation strategies that address habitat protection, pollution control, and sustainable fishing practices.