The world's most endangered giant Swinhoe's softshell turtle is no longer alone on the planet after the discovery of a female of his species in Vietnam.
The female 86kg (13 stone) turtle was found in Dong Mo lake, in Hanoi's Son Tay district, and captured for genetic testing in October, reports The Guardian.
DNA tests have nowconfirmed the animal is a Swinhoe's softshell turtle, the most endangered turtle in the world.
Another turtle estimated to weigh 130kg was sighted in the lake, and conservationists hope that this could be another male.
The only known male Swinhoe's softshell turtle is at Suzhou zoo in China. Scientists aim to ensure that the turtles are given the chance to breed and save the species from the brink of extinction.
The animal, known also as the Hoan Kiem turtle or Yangtze giant softshell turtle, has been driven to the brink by hunting for its meat and eggs, as well as by destruction of its habitat.
"This is the best news of the year, and quite possibly the last decade, for global turtle conservation," said Andrew Walde, at the Turtle Survival Alliance, which advised the Vietnamese government on the conservation project.
Hoang Bich Thuy, country director for the Wildlife Conservation Society, said, "In a year full of bad news and sadness across the globe, the discovery of this female can offer all some hope that this species will be given another chance to survive."
Swinhoe's softshell turtle was given legal protection in Vietnam in 2013. "[Before] that time, if one was caught, its meat was shared with the whole family, relatives and the neighbourhood," said Hoang, who added that many of the turtles were also hunted to sell to China. "Its eggs were also collected and soaked in salt, as local people believed turtle salted egg helped cure diarrhoea."
The conservationists spent weeks looking for the female turtle in the 1,400-hectare Dong Mo lake. She is one metre long and was captured for a day to allow examination and blood samples to be taken. The team said she was healthy, strong – and upon release keen to be in the lake again.
In spring 2021 the team hopes to capture the second, larger, turtle seen in the same lake, as this is when the water level is lowest. There may also be a turtle in nearby Xuan Khanh lake, as scientists have detected DNA in water samples.