A rare giant turtle previously thought to be extinct in the wild has been discovered in northern Vietnam, according to researchers from the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo who made the find.
The only other known Swinhoe's soft-shell turtles are three animals that live in captivity, said experts from the zoo's Asian turtle program.
The discovery represents hope for the species, said Doug Hendrie, the program's Vietnam-based coordinator.
Turtle expert Peter Pritchard, president of the Chelonian Research Institute, confirmed the find based on a photo Hendrie showed him.
"It looked like pretty solid evidence. The animal has a pretty distinctive head," Pritchard said.
He added that an amateur photographed a different Swinhoe's soft-shell turtle in southern China about six months ago that he believes was legitimate.
"It's on the very brink of extinction, so every one counts," Pritchard said.
According to the Cleveland zoo, the Swinhoe's soft-shell turtle is the largest freshwater turtle in the world.
The reptiles can weigh up to 300 pounds (136 kilograms) and measure up to three feet (a meter) long. Some have been known to live for more than a hundred years.
Of the other three turtles in captivity, two are in Chinese zoos and one is cared for in the Hoan Kiem—or "Returned Sword"—Lake in downtown Hanoi.
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