The fourth known living Swinhoe’s Softshell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei), the world’s most endangered turtle species, has been found at Xuan Khanh Lake on the outskirts of Hanoi, thanks to efforts of the Asian Turtle Programme (ATP) of Indo-Myanmar Conservation (IMC), a UK based conservation charity, and help from Washington State University environmental scientist Caren Goldberg.
The animals are secretive, surfacing and basking rarely, preferring to spend time in the depths of the lakes. This makes positive identification of the animals that are reported extremely difficult and time consuming.
To help with this the ATP/IMC has teamed up with Goldberg and the US Turtle Survival Alliance to explore the use of environmental DNA (eDNA) to find the species. eDNA is a relatively new technique for which Dr. Goldberg was an early pioneer, the technique relies on detecting the tiniest amounts of DNA in samples of water collected in the area of interest to confirm that the species is present. The technique has often been used for fish and amphibians but the methods have only recently been applied to endangered turtles.