Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle

Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle species profile

The Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle is a unique – and huge – turtle that is hovering on the brink of extinction…

Last updated on December 12th, 2022 at 06:38 pm

The Yangtze giant softshell turtle is a rare and endangered reptile. It ranks as number 20 on the EDGE list of endangered reptiles. Its close relative, the Euphrates softshell turtle, ranks as number 59 on the list.

You can learn more about this turtle species by reading this article. It will give you information on its habitat, life span, and threats. You can also learn about its diet, habits, and conservation status.

Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle Habitat

The habitat of the Yangtze giant softshell turtle is primarily wetlands and large lakes in Asia. Although the species is still technically alive, it is nearing extinction, in part due to hunting and pollution.

The turtle’s habitat is now threatened by hydroelectric dams and shipping traffic. You can still see a Yangtze giant softshell turtle in a Suzhou zoo, but its numbers have been steadily decreasing due to human threats that are exterminating many species in China.

The Yangtze giant softshell turtle is a relative of the Endangered Euphrates softshell turtle. They are believed to have diverged from all other living species over 40 million years ago. The Euphrates Softshell will be the sole surviving member of its genus if the Yangtze species dies out.

While it is now incredibly rare, it is still an important part of the ecosystem. The species is critically endangered due to habitat loss, but its survival is at risk because of its widespread use for food.

How long has it been endangered?

The Yangtze giant softshell turtle is one of the most critically endangered species of turtles in the world. It only survives in two lakes in northern Vietnam.

The species has been critically endangered since the 1980s. Conservationists estimate that there are now only three remaining wild turtles in the world.

The turtle is a rare sight – in April, a female was discovered in a lake with a male turtle. Unfortunately, the male was not able to reproduce properly because his penis had been damaged during a fight with another turtle decades ago.

Conservationists hope to capture the wild individuals and raise them in captivity in a semi-wild environment.

Recently, researchers attempted to artificially inseminate a captive female, but it did not wake up. The Asian Turtle Program confirmed this news on their Facebook page. (read more about this below)

How many Yangtze giant softshell turtle are left?

The last known female of the elusive Yangtze giant softshell turtle, Rafetus swinhoei, has died. She was believed to be over 90 years old. All remaining individuals are either male or of unknown sex.

The turtle died after artificial insemination, which was performed without complications. A scheduled autopsy was scheduled for the turtle’s remains.

This is the first death of a Yangtze giant softshell turtle since records began. Only three of these turtles live in the wild, with the rest found in Vietnam.

These turtles can grow to over 1.5 meters long, weigh more than 100 kilograms, and live up to 160 years. They were once widespread in the Yangtze and Red River Valleys. Unfortunately, their last record of sightings was in 2006.

In 2016, there were only five known individuals of the species worldwide. The IUCN Red List has listed these turtles as critically endangered, which makes their future uncertain.

As you can see from the video below, conservationists aren’t giving up, and the hunt for more wild individuals continues…


The life span of a Yangtze giant softshell turtle varies widely. Its natural habitat is the Yangtze River, Lake Tai, and other bodies of water in China and Vietnam. These waterways are vast, making them hard to track over the years.

Its last wild population is believed to live in Madushan Reservoir, a body of water on the Red River below Honghe, China. In 2008, two of these turtles were transferred to the Suzhou Zoo.

The Yangtze giant softshell turtle lives for fifty or more years, but its lifespan depends on its size and health.


Interestingly, the diet of this species is strikingly similar to that of the Fly River Turtle, perhaps because it also inhabitas deep, tropical water.

In the wild Yangtze Giant Softshells eat:

  • crabs
  • snails
  • fish
  • frogs
  • water hyacinth
  • aquatic plants

How big is the Yangtze giant softshell turtle?

The Yangtze giant softshell turtle, also known as a rafetus, is one of the largest freshwater turtles. Some individuals may even have been larger than the Alligator Snapping Turtle.

It can grow to be up to 100 centimeters (39 in) long and weigh as much as 275 pounds.

The average length of the turtle’s carapace is around 86 centimetres (34 inches) long, and the carapace may reach 106 centimetres (42 in) long.

The turtle’s head can reach up to 20 centimetres (79 in) in length and 10 centimeters (3 in) wide, depending on its age.

As with most highly aquatic turtles, the females are large than males. This is due to the fact that unlike terrestrial species, male softshells don’t engage in combat over mates, and therefore size is not an important factor for their survival.


As with most critically endangered reptile species, the Giant Softshell’s main predator is man.

It is considered to be near extinction, due to habitat loss from decades of pollution, shipping traffic, and hydroelectric dams. Humans also hunt them for meat and traditional medicine.

Naturally predators, on the other hand, are unable to attach adults of this species due to its huge size.

Nonetheless, babies are targeted by the following:

  • herons
  • rodents
  • small mammals
  • fish
  • possibly other turtles

Other threats

Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle
By Phuongcacanh at Vietnamese Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14538550

The habitat of the Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle is under severe threat due to human activities such as hunting, pollution, and alternative medicine. Some turtle skulls are also collected as trophies.

The species is critically endangered, with only three known individuals. Conservationists are trying to find them so they can breed in captivity.

After locating the two male turtles, they would then plan to rear the remaining two turtles in a semi-wild captive environment. Conservationists also hope to find the female and breed them.

While the breeding program is currently unsuccessful, it does provide a living opportunity for the turtles.

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