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Version May 19, 2008

Efforts to Save the Species:  Rafetus on the Move in China

ATCN Note:  Below is a quick update from Rick Hudson of the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) on the historic undertaking that is underway in China as government, zoo, and international experts attempt to introduce the last two captive Rafetus swinhoei together in hopes that they will reproduce and save the species from extinction. 

A message from Rick Hudson, co-chair of the TSA (May 5, 2008)

History is being made today folks and TSA is leading the way.  The last know female Yangtze giant soft-shell, Rafetus swinhoei, is on her way to join the last captive male in China at the Suzhou Zoo.  The team left Changsha this morning about 2 AM CST, a 3 van caravan (including a PBS Nature film crew) starting the 1100 km trip.  The team is led by Dr. Geradl Kuchling and includes Paul Calle, DVM (WCS), Scott Davis (TSA) and Mitch Kalmanson (Lester Kalmanson Agency) who is in chagre of insurance and transportation logistics.  Vets from Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden and Ocean Park Hong Kong are also along. 

On Saturday Dr. Kuchling inspected the modified breeding pond at Suzhou and recommended some last minute changes, then he returned to Changsha and performed a reproductive ultrasound exam on the female.  The good news is that she has not yet ovulated and has 11 pre ovulatory follicles and good fat deposits.  So we appear to be moving her at the right time.
Planning this historic move has been a collaboration between the TSA and WCS through their office in Beijing.  We have a $25,000  budget with most of those funds having been secured, and the rest are guaranteed.  Championing this effort has been Walter Sedgwick, TSA donor and WCS  Trustee; we also have received funding from the TCF ($10,000), Batchelor Foundation ($5K), matched by Walter Sedgwick, Ocean Park Conservation Foundation, and Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden.    

The Female Makes it to Changsha Zoo (May 6, 2008)
ATCN Note based on an email update:  The female was reported to successful transferred to Changsha Zoo where she was released into a partitioned breeding pond.  The male remains on the other side of a mesh fence giving her time to adjust to the change and both male and female a chance to get to know each other a bit before being introduced. 

Signs of Breeding Activities Reported (May 12, 2008)
ATCN Note from Email:  Team Rafetus at Suzhou Zoo reports that the gate was opened and the male and female Rafetus have swam back and forth between both sides of the divided pond.  The team has also observed some breeding behavior, chasing, the male biting at the neck of the female, and mounting, though it is unknown of copulation has occurred.  If the two turtles manage to breed successfully, which it appears that they are trying, there may be a chance to pull this critically endangered species back from the edge of extinction (30 or 40 little guys to help ensure the future of the species!).