In Vietnamese Lake Dong Mo, two Svayno turtles ( Rafetus swinhoei ) were photographed at the same time, according to a press release from the Asian Turtle Program: four living representatives of this species are now known. If the turtles in the lake turned out to be of different sexes, the species, which is on the verge of complete extinction, will have hope of salvation.
The giant freshwater turtle Rafetus swinhoei is one of the rarest reptiles in the world. This species was once widespread in South China and North Vietnam but almost disappeared as a result of hunting and pollution of water bodies. In April 2019, a day after the failed artificial insemination attempt, the last known female R. swinhoei died - an individual about ninety years old who lived in a Chinese zoo. The number of the species was reduced to one male from the same zoo and two wild individuals from different Vietnamese lakes.
Although the situation of the species looks hopeless, experts do not lose hope of saving it. They believe that other individuals of R. swinhoei may live in Vietnam, which have not yet been seen by scientists. The search for them has continued over the past several years in 21 provinces of North Vietnam.
On August 20, 2020, Nguyen Van Trong, an employee of the Asian Turtle Program, photographed two turtles that had risen to the surface in Dong Mo Lake, near Hanoi. One of them is a large specimen of R. swinhoei already known to scientists. The species belonging to the second, smaller one, has not yet been established with one hundred per cent accuracy, but the researchers hope that it belongs to the same species. Judging by the size of the head, it weighs 40-50 kilograms, which corresponds to the size of R. swinhoei.
Locals occasionally reported the second turtle in Dong Mo and were even seen by the Asian Turtle Program on several occasions. However, there has been no documentary evidence of the existence of another individual yet.
Now the researchers have to clarify the species of the second turtle, as well as understand what sex both individuals are in the lake. If this is a male and a female, then the species has a chance of salvation: at a time, the female can lay from 30 to 40 eggs. Experts hope that the find will be confirmed and will spur the search for other surviving R. swinhoei.
Even if the discovery of a fourth R. swinhoei is confirmed, this reptile will remain on the brink of extinction. But the other species, which was considered extinct, seems to be in no danger. We are talking about a Somali jumper that lives in northeast Africa. Having gone on an expedition to Djibouti, zoologists discovered that these animals, which had not been seen by scientists for almost 50 years, are quite numerous.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons