The Red River Giant soft-shell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) is the stuff of legend in Vietnam. The fabled turtle in Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake is popularly known by the name Kim Qui or Golden Turtle God, and it made its first historical appearance in 250 BC.
Today this species could indeed use some divine intervention. Experts at the World Conservation Congress here in South Korea’s southern resort island of Jeju warned that there are only four specimens of the famous turtle known to be alive. And only two have any realistic hope of breeding, said Professor Jonathan Baillie, director of conservation at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).
At the Congress, which ended Saturday, the ZSL and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released a list of the 100 most threatened species in the world and called for concerted action to save those unfortunate enough to make it on to the list, like the Red River Giant turtle.
The report, titled “Priceless or Worthless?”, says that all breeding efforts to produce hatchlings of the Red River Giant have failed since 2008. “We have to get the last ones together to breed,” Baillie put it starkly.
The Red River Giant is probably the most famous species on the list that includes such obscure species as the Liben Lark (Heteromirafra sidamoensis) from Ethiopia, of which less than 300 survive, or the Javan Rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus), considered the rarest of all living rhinos. A Javan Rhino horn goes for as much as 30,000 dollars on the black market, it is that rare.
Or take the case of the Suicide Palm (Tahina spectabilis), found in northwestern Madagascar. Only discovered in 2007, it is probably a good thing that it can grow so large that individuals can be detected on satellite imagery, as only 90 known individual trees have been located. The tree’s name comes from ...