Rafetus swinhoei (Gray, 1873:157)

Yangtze giant softshell turtle, Red River giant softshell turtle, Swinhoe's softshell turtle, Swinhoe's turtle



Taxonomy & Nomenclature

Synonymy follows (Asian Turtle Trade Working Group, 2000b): Oscaria swinhoei Gray, 1873:157 (original combination); Trionyx swinhoei (Gray, 1873:157); Yuen elegans Heude 1880; Yuen leprosus Heude 1880; Yuen maculatus Heude 1880; Yuen pallens Heude 1880; Yuen viridis Heude 1880; Trionyx swinhonis Boulanger 1889 (nomen novum); Pelochelys taihuensis † Zhang 1984; Trionyx liupani † Tao 1986; Rafetus hoankiemensis Ha 1995 (nomen nudum); Rafetus hoguomensis Ha 1995; Rafetus leloii Ha 2000; Rafetus vietnamensis Le, Le, Tran, Phan, Tran, Pham, Nguyen, Nong, Phan, Dinh, Truong and Ha 2010


Conservation Status

Functionally extinct

IUCN status (2000): Critically Endangered

Only three individuals (two males, one sex unknown), of Rafetus swinhoei are known to exist. An old male at Suzhou Zoo in China that was previously part of an attempt to breed the species with an old female ("China Girl") who resided at the same zoo until she died 24 hours after attempted artificial insemination on 13 April 2019. And two wild individuals discovered in 2007 and 2018, the latter as yet unsexed.



China & Vietnam


Biology & Ecology










Original scientific description:

Gray, J. E. (1873). Notes on Chinese Mud-Tortoises (Trionychidae), with the Description of a new Species sent to the British Meseum by Mr. Swinhoe, and Observations on the Male Organ of this Family. The Annals and Magazine of Natural History (Fourth Series) 68: 156-160.


Other references:

Anonymous. (2011). Hoan Kiem turtle is a new species. news site (

Asian Turtle Trade Working Group. (2000a). Rafetus swinhoei (errata version published in 2016). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2000: e.T39621A97401328. /save/ Downloaded on 11 August 2018. [archived]

Asian Turtle Trade Working Group. (2000b). Rafetus swinhoei (errata version published in 2016). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2000: e.T39621A97401328. Downloaded on 14 April 2019.

Baillie, Jonathan E. M. and Butcher, Ellen R. (2012). Priceless or Worthless? The world’s most threatened species. London, UK: Zoological Society of London.

Bettelheim, Matthew P. (2012). Swinhoe's Softshell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei): The legendary Sword Lake Turtle of Hoan Kiem Lake. Bibliotheca Herpetologica 10(1): 4-20.

Binh, Le Tran et al. (2010). Comparative morphological and DNA analysis of specimens of giant freshwater soft-shelled turtle in Vietnam related to Hoan Kiem Turtle. Tạp chí Công nghệ Sinh học 8(3A): 949-954.

Bonin, F., Devaux, B. and Dupré, A. (2006). Turtles of the World. English translation by P.C.H. Pritchard. Johns Hopkins University Press, 416 pp.

Boulenger, G. A. (1889). Catalogue of the Chelonians, Rhynchocephalians, and Crocodiles in the British Museum (Natural History). British Museum, London, 311 pp.

CNN. (1998). Giant Turtle Sightings Set Vietnam Capital Abuzz. April 13, 1998.

Le Duc, Olivier et al. (2020). A new locality of presence for the world’s rarest turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) gives new hope for its survival. Journal for Nature Conservation 55: 125833. [Abstract]

Farkas, B. L. (1992). Wiederentdeckung eines Exemplars von Rafetus swinhoei (GRAY, 1873) in Naturhistorischen Museum Wien, Salamandra 28(2): 145-152.

Farkas, B. and Fritz, U. (1999). On the identity of Rafetus swinhoei (GRAY, 1873) and Pelochelys maculatus (HEUDE, 1880) (Reptilia: Testudines: Trionychidae). ZOOLOGISCHE ABHANDLUNGEN- STAATLICHES MUSEUM FUR TIERKUNDE IN DRESDEN 50(1): 59-75.

Farkas, Balazs, and, Webb, Robert G. (2003). Rafetus leloii Ha Dinh Duc, 2000: An invalid species of softshell turtle from Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam (Reptilia, Testudines, Trionychidae). Zoologische Abhandlungden (Dresden) 53: 107-12.

Hà Dinh Dúc. (2000). A new species of the genus Rafetus (Family: Trionychidae) from Hoan Kiem lake of Vietnam. Archaeology Magazine (Vietnam) 4:104.

Heinselman, Craig. (1998). News Note: Hoan Kiem Turtle. Crypto 1(2): [pagination?].

Heinselman, Craig. (2000). Hoan Kiem Turtle - A tale of the Sword. Crypto 3(3): 15-30.

Hilton-Taylor, C. 2000. 2000 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group and Asian Turtle Trade Working Group. 2000. Changes to 1996 IUCN Red List Status of Asian Turtle Species. In: P.P. van Dijk, B.L. Stuart and A.G.J. Rhodin (eds). Asian Turtle Trade: Proceedings of a Workshop on Conservation and Trade of Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises in Asia, pp.156-164. Chelonian Research Monographs 2. Chelonian Research Foundation, Lunenburg, Massachusetts, USA.

Kuchling, Gerald, Dingqi, Rao and Shunqing, Lu. (2012). Rescuing the Giant Yangtze and Red River Softshell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei). Turtle Survival, pp. 44-45.

Meylan, P. A. (1987). The phylogenetic relationships of soft-shelled turtles (Family Trionychidae). Bul. Amer. Mus. Nat. Hist. 186: 4-101.

Orollette, Dan Jnr. (2013). Gold Rush in the Jungle: The Race to Discover and Defend the Rarest Animals of Vietnam's "Lost World". Crown. 336 pp.

Van Pham, Thong et al. (2022). Female wanted for the world's rarest turtle: prioritizing areas where Rafetus swinhoei may persist in the wild. Oryx 56(3): 396-403.

Pritchard, Peter C. H. (2012). Rafetus, The Curve of Extinction: The Story of the Giant Softshell Turtle of the Yangtze and Red Rivers. Living Art Publishing. 174 pp.

Ren, Yandong et al. (2022). Genomic insights into the evolution of the critically endangered soft-shelled turtle Rafetus swinhoei. Molecular Ecology Resources.

Schaffer, Rick and Schaffer, Chuck. (2008). China Girl’s Journey: Last Chance for the Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle? Turtle and Tortoise Newsletter 12: 10-12.

Shuker, Karl. (1998). Turning Turtle? Fortean Times 113: 18.

Turtle Conservation Coalition [Rhodin, A.G.J., Walde, A.D., Horne, B.D., van Dijk, P.P., Blanck, T., and Hudson, R. (Eds.)]. (2011). Turtles in Trouble: The World’s 25+ Most Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011. Lunenburg, MA: IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group, Turtle Conservation Fund, Turtle Survival Alliance, Turtle Conservancy, Chelonian Research Foundation, Conservation International, Wildlife Conservation Society, and San Diego Zoo Global. 54 pp.

Turtle Conservation Coalition [Stanford, C.B., Rhodin, A.G.J., van Dijk, P.P., Horne, B.D., Blanck, T., Goode, E.V., Hudson, R., Mittermeier, R.A., Currylow, A., Eisemberg, C., Frankel, M., Georges, A., Gibbons, P.M., Juvik, J.O., Kuchling, G., Luiselli, L., Shi, H., Singh, S., and Walde, A. (Eds.)]. (2018). Turtles in Trouble: Te World’s 25+ Most Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2018. Ojai, CA: IUCN SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group, Turtle Conservancy, Turtle Survival Alliance, Turtle Conservation Fund, Chelonian Research Foundation, Conservation International, Wildlife Conservation Society, and Global Wildlife Conservation. 80 pp.

Viet Nam News. (2000). A Hoàn Kieám Turtle Pops Up to Say Hello. March 16.

Wang, Jian, Shi, Hai-Tao, Wen, Cheng and Han, Lian-Xian. (2013). Habitat Selection and Conservation Suggestions for Rafetus swinhoei in Upper Red River, China. Chelonian Conservation and Biology Chelonian Conservation and Biology 12(1): 177-184. [Abstract]

Westergaard, Gitte. (2024). Island Extinction and Animal Remains in Museums. PhD thesis, University of Stavanger.

Westergaard, Gitte and Jørgensen, Dolly. (2021). Making Specimens Sacred: Putting the Bodies of Solitario Jorge and Cụ Rùa on Display, pp. 68-86. In: Bezan, Sarah and McKay, Robert (eds.). Animal Remains. London: Routledge. [reports the death of the old female ("China Girl") at Suzhou Zoo, China, on 13 April 2019; the only known female in the world]


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