The last ever known female Yangtze giant soft-shelled turtle has died, meaning the last hope for the species may have now gone.
Chinese state media has reported that the 90-year-old turtle, Xiangxiang, is believed to have passed away after researchers attempted to artificially inseminate her. An autopsy is yet to be carried out, however the insemination suffered no complications.
Before the female passed away, there were four of the turtles left in the world, and now there are only three, a male at the zoo and two in the wild in Vietnam.
The female turtle had lived at the Suzhou Zoo with one of the last remaining male turtles, her partner. They were introduced to each other in 2009, and her arrival at the zoo was hailed with much joy and hope for a new litter.
However, the couple remained childless after the male's damaged penis rendered him unable to mate with her. A brutal fight with another male meant the turtle lost the use of his penis; the other turtle lost his life.
Yangtze soft-shell turtles are the largest freshwater turtle species in the world, and they have tiny pig-like snouts and large smooth shells.
However, due to global warming and poaching, their numbers have dramatically reduced, whittling them down to disastrous levels, reports the National Geographic.
David Steen, of the Georgia Sea Turtle Centre said:
Destruction of their habitats, pollution and exploitation for food and perceived medical benefits all played an important role in their decline.
The plight of Yangtze giant soft-shell, together with the plights of thousands of other declining and recently-extinct species, reminds us that we are living through a biodiversity and extinction crisis that requires bold and immediate action.
The turtle's death came after a long fight with infertility. Scientists had already attempted to artificially inseminate her three times without success, meaning her death could likely bring about the extinction of the species.
The giant soft-shell turtles can live as many as 160 years, and can have up to three litters a year.