Answers to your turtle questions and an update on the Red River Giant Softshell Turtle

Last week, the CI community submitted questions to our turtle expert through this blog, as well as Facebook and the website.

One question that came up frequently was about the Red River Giant Softshell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei). The Red River Giant Softshell Turtle may be the rarest and most threatened of all turtles, in addition to one of the largest – only four individuals are known remaining alive in the world.

See Dr. Peter Paul van Dijk’s answers on this topic below, and check out all of the community’s questions with expert answers on CI’s website.

Vanessa from the United Kingdom asked, “Are the four known remaining Red River Giant Softshell Turtles still capable of breeding? Can you tell me what is being done to help preserve them or is extinction certain?” and Job, via Facebook, asked, “Do you know of any updates on the Rafetus project in Suzhou? I’ve been coming back to the TSA website but they have not been updating on this subject (or I may have missed it).”


Of the four known animals, the male and female who were in captivity in China for decades at separate locations were brought together 3 years ago in the Suzhou zoo. They have bred and the female produced several clutches of eggs each year, but while there was some initial development, the embryos all died during incubation. It is not quite clear if this is a result of inadequate diet, reproductive senility, or some other problem; Dr. Gerald Kuchling, the world’s foremost expert on turtle reproductive, has worked with these animals throughout this time, and we still have hope that they will produce healthy hatchlings in the not too distant future. More details on these efforts can be found at

The other two animals live in separate lakes in northern Viet Nam, and we do not know with certainty if they are a male and female. Males do not tolerate each other; bringing two males together would likely result in one of them being killed by the other. Even if they are a confirmed pair, bringing them together involves great challenges. The animal in Hoan Kiem lake in downtown Hanoi is a symbol of Viet Nam’s independence; moving the animal out to the other lake is simply unacceptable. Moving the other animal into Hoan Kiem is a great logistic challenge, politically perhaps possible, but then runs into the problem that Hoan Kiem lake is severely polluted, does not have an adequate nesting site, and is not secure from harassment and injury of the turtles by humans. Moving animals from Viet Nam to China or vice versa – that becomes largely a political decision on top of the enormous challenges to transport such a large animal safely and without injury or severe stress.

There is hope that somewhere in northern Viet Nam or southern Yunnan, one or more animals still survive, undetected. Survey teams continue to look for more animals, and there remains hope that animals may survive, or be brought, together to perpetuate the species.

Dr. Peter Paul van Dijk, Director of
Conservation International’s Tortoise
and Freshwater Turtle Conservation Program

What makes turtles come out of the river to walk out into the road? How many turtle species have been identified? What about farming the most endangered turtles?

See the answers to all these and more questions.

And don’t forget to submit your question for the next installment of our Q&A series. Next time, Dr. Robin Moore, amphibian scientist, will answer your questions about frogs, toads, newts, salamanders, caecilians, and the Search for the Lost Frogs.


  1. Gerald Brown says

    I had two turtles , One cooter , & a eastern painted turtle I caught out of the same pond . I let the cooter go , Because he was getting to big . Now the painted turtle don’t eat much . Is this normal ?

  2. Janice says

    Live in NSW Australia. Rescued a trutle from the road took it home and placed it in fish pond where it has lived for 18months. Growing well but concerned if plants in pond and fish flakes are correct and sufficient food for turtle. Should I prepare some area for hibernation? Thank you

  3. cindy says

    We have 6 inch turtle with a smooth shell on top that is solid beige/brown…squares are there but it is not raised. The dome is high. The tummy is yellow/beige. It has orange under its chin and orange dots on the legs….does anyone know what kind it is?

  4. Hannah says

    I found a box turtle in my yard about 3 months ago and decided to keep it as a pet. And a few days ago I came home from a family vacation and went to check on it and discovered there was an egg in her water in her cage then a day later there were 2 more eggs,2 in the water and on the sand. Should I move them out of the water or should I keep them in the water. And is there any thing I should do to help them hatch? Also do you think they could be fertil or infertil?

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