It is with great sadness that we at the CRI observe the passing of the last female Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) last weekend at Suzhou Zoo in China. Through Peter’s work in Asia, this turtle was very special to us and forces us to recognize the realities of extinction. Peter had documented much of the history of this animal in his book Rafetus: The Curve of Extinction.
The turtle was found at the Changsha Zoo and later moved to Suzhou in 2008. In the preceding years, Peter had been tracing all evidence of the species throughout China and Vietnam. A number of specimens had turned up in museums etc… then, further specimens were found where they had in the past been hunted. However, very few living specimens had been found. Several had recently died or subsequently died shortly after the publication of Peter’s book.
In recent years, we were down to just four animals; of which only one was a female. Concerted efforts have been made by many in what was a last-ditch effort to save the species. It focused on the animal at the Suzhou Zoo and we have all been hearing about these efforts for some time now. Unfortunately, those efforts did not pan out, but should still be commended.
Now, we must turn our attention to finding more specimens of this species before it is lost forever. To attempt new techniques as they become available. The same is true for the many other species of turtles that are highly endangered in all parts of the world.
Turtles are among the most endangered vertebrates on the planet. They are true survivors, having made it through two mass extinction events. It will be a tragic loss to the history of this planet for this to be lost.
This demonstrates the significance of our continued efforts to positively impact the study and conservation of turtles and tortoises of the world.
Lost Giant Tortoise may be Found
Last seen in 1906 over 110 years ago when a single specimen was found, the Fernandina Giant Tortoise may have finally been located. Although officially listed as critically endangered, it has long been thought by many to be in all likelihood extinct. Although many of the Galapagos Tortoises became rare or even extinct due to human endeavors it has long been thought that in this case it was the constant lava flows on Fernandina. Past reports kept people hopeful and was the reasoning behind the critically endangered status. But no confirmed sightings have been documented until the other day.
Marcelo Mata the Ecuadorian Environment Minister announced that one had been found by the Galapagos Parks Authority and the Galapagos Foundation which tells us the importance to never stop trying to find rare and endangered species. Occasionally, we get lucky as in this incredible find.
Here at the CRI with our long association with the Galapagos we are excited by this discovery and congratulate all who were on the ground looking. We hope it proves with further study to be a member of the Fernandina population of the Galapagos Giant Tortoise.
Photo above is of the Holotype of Chelonoidis phantasticus at the California Academy of Sciences. Taken by Peter C. H. Pritchard, from his book on Galapagos Tortoises of 1996.
Global Tribute for Peter at the Turtle Survival Alliance Symposium
Recently, at the 14th Annual Symposium on the Conservation and Biology of Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles in New Orleans, a special conference session was dedicated to the life and work of Peter Pritchard. Industry colleagues from around the globe came or sent sentiments to pay tribute to Peter’s work. Below are two video highlights from the coveted event:
Video highlight of Peter’s career and tributes from industry colleagues:
Orlando International Airport Features Peter in Local Heroes Campaign
The next time you’re traveling through the Orlando International Airport, you will see a familiar face! From now through October, airport visitors can see a display featuring Peter at the west end of the airport in Tunnel B. The display is part of a new airport campaign which highlights Central Florida heroes and notable organizations.
Turtle and Tortoise Experts Gather in Orlando
Hundreds of turtle and tortoise experts gathered at Orlando’s Rosen Plaza Hotel for the joint annual meeting of the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) and International Union for Conservation of Nature Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group (TFTSG). Following the conference, Peter and Sibille hosted several researchers at the Institute.
Chelonian Research Institute’s Southeast Asia Tour
Peter and Sibille joined Chelonian Research Institute board member, Bill MacArthur, his wife, Luz, and daughter, Olyvia, on an exciting reunion trip to Laos. This trip was in commemoration of their prior visit more than 20 years ago to the location where Peter conducted some of his most significant research in Southeast Asia. Peter and Sibille continued on to Hanoi, Vietnam, in search of new turtle sightings.
Peter’s most recent book, Rafetus: The Curve of Extinction, educates readers about this highly endangered softshell species, which resides in the freshwater habitats of the Yangtze and Red Rivers in Vietnam. While Peter was in Hanoi, he had the opportunity to reconnect with Dr. Ha Dinh Duc, University of Hanoi biology professor, with whom he conducted much of the Rafetus research, as well as Tim McCormack of the Asian Turtle Program, who is currently studying the species. Much to his surprise, Peter actually spotted a Rafetus turtle during the meeting! With only three Rafetus turtles believed to be alive in the world, this once-in-a-lifetime experience was ideally suited for a beloved “turtle man.”
Peter inducted into Sea Turtle Hall of Fame
Peter traveled to Jekyll Island, GA for the Southeast Regional Sea Turtle Network meeting, where he was recognized as a Hall of Fame inductee.
The award was presented by Peter’s longtime colleague, Lew Ehrhart, Ph.D., and Simona Ceriani, Ph.D., a former research intern for the Institute who is now a research scientist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.