Turkey Baster May Save Rare Turtle From the Brink

Scientists hope artificial insemination works for endangered Yangtze turtle
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 4, 2015 3:26 PM CDT
Turkey Baster May Save Rare Turtle From the Brink
In this 2011 photo, a giant softshell turtle is seen after being pulled from Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi, Vietnam.   (AP Photo/Na Son Nguyen)

Scientists racing to save the Yangtze giant softshell turtle from extinction may have just taken a big step toward their goal. Just four of the freshwater turtles are known to exist—and only one of them, discovered in 2007, is female. After years of failed breeding with her 100-year-old male partner, experts at China's Suzhou Zoo embarked on a mission to artificially inseminate the 85-year-old female last month. "At first we tried semen collection through manual stimulation and the use of a vibrator," Gerald Kuchling of the Turtle Survival Alliance tells Scientific American. When that didn't work, researchers decided to sedate the male and use an electrical probe to excite an erection, a procedure dubbed electro-ejaculation. The only problem: one good look at the turtle’s genitals revealed a penis "mangled" by a decades-old fight, reports the New York Times.

Researchers were still able to collect a viable semen sample, though its motility was low. "Not long after the female met her new boyfriend, Mr. Turkey Baster," writes John Platt at Scientific American. Researchers are now playing the waiting game: The female turtle is expected to lay up to 60 eggs this month, and experts are hoping they'll be fertile. "Nobody has ever done this before, and it’s probably a long shot," Kuchling says. He notes it's unlikely the female could mate with the two other male softshell turtles because they are in Vietnam and "pretty much off limits for any non-Vietnamese." But a single baby turtle, he says, "would give hope for the recovery of this magnificent animal." (This endangered turtle has an insane talent.)

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