Cuora zhoui (Zhao in Zhao, Zhou & Ye 1990)

This Cuora species only became known to science when it was described in 1990 based on a handful of specimens from two markets in southern China’s Guangxi Province, bordering Vietnam. A year later, the species received a synonym, Cuora pallidicephala, by American scientists, having received specimens of this species in 1989 from a Hong Kong turtle trader. These specimens were said to have originated in southern China’s Yunnan Province.

Cuora zhoui has a brownish to black carapace, a black plastron with a distinct yellow central figure, and an olive colored head. Adults reach a size of 15–22 cm SCL and sexes can be differentiated by the larger tail and concave plastron present in males. Despite intensive searches for nearly three decades both in China and Vietnam, this species has not yet been found in the wild. Based upon the low number of specimens (< 200) that have appeared in the trade between 1990 and 2010, this species probably has a highly restricted range. No new specimens have been located since 2009, increasing the concern that C. zhoui might already be extinct in the wild. In captivity, about 200 wild caught founders existed, but in the last decade, this number has decreased to fewer than 30 founders. A handful of breeders have been able to reproduce this species, the most successful being Elmar Meier in Germany, producing more than 80 hatchlings from three breeding pairs. The world captive population currently totals about 140 specimens. With a very small gene pool in captivity, a founder population roughly 85% smaller than it was a decade ago (when the last wild specimens were collected), and no known wild habitat, C. zhoui is clearly a species of extremely high conservation priority.

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