Swinhoe’s softshell turtle or Hoan Kiem turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) is among the largest turtles in the world (up to 170kg). Hunting and habitat loss were the main drivers that brought the species on the brink of extinction. With the death of the female in China in 13 April 2019, there are only two known individuals in the world. As a result, the species has been recognized as the rarest turtle species on earth. The last male is kept in Suzhou zoo in China, and the only wild individual occurs in Dong Mo Lake, Hanoi, capital of Vietnam. Recently, Asian Turtle Program claims a presence of another individual in Xuan Khanh Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam on Facebook. However, there is no scientific evidence to support the statement.
To date, little has been known on specie’s ecology, distribution and real population status due to the lack of standard methodology in research and publication. As a consequence of this issue, the conservation program of the species is going to a dead end. The Rafetus swinhoei future is uncertain. Having taken the measure of this urgency, Turtle Sanctuary Conservation Center has defined a long-term research and conservation program focused on Rafetus swinhoei. We strictly follow the standardize research methodology and step by step to apply the conservation strategy. The objective is to allow the search for additional individuals for breeding. At first step, we have intensively conducted the structured interview in order to search for the survival of the species in the wild and its ecological information. From March to May 2019 and from October to November 2019, the field experts from Turtle Sanctuary led by Prof. Luca Luiselli have conducted several intensive interview survey trips. The survey was carried out in the major river system of Vietnam and Laos. It includes Da River (syn. Black River), Hong River (syn. Red River) in Northern Vietnam and Ma & Chu River in Vietnam and Laos. The first results were published in famous peer-reviewed journals. In summary, we found some localities which could potentially suggest the presence of the legend turtle- Rafetus swinhoei. We also found several historical places where no one knew about that before. We are currently continuing our efforts to save this mysterious turtle. This conservation program requires patience, innovation and rigor to achieve their goals as we are doing the best right now.