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【世界上最濒危的物种】拿什么拯救你,中华巨鳖

寻找中华鳖

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译者 姚洋

The hunt for the Madushan Monster

国家地理——寻找“马堵山水怪”

 

With the death of Lonesome George, the sole surviving Pinta Island Giant Tortoise, the Chinese Giant Softshell Turtle (rafetus swinhoei) now has the dubious honour of being ranked as the world’s most critically endangered species of turtle.

 

世界上仅存的一只平塔岛象龟(Pinta Island Giant Tortoise)“孤独的乔治”离世后,全球最濒临灭绝的龟鳖类动物这一“殊荣”便轮到了斑鳖(Rafetus swinhoei)(中华巨鳖)的头上。 

 

The Giant Softshell Turtle is noted for being the largest freshwater turtle in the world. They can grow larger than 50 centimetres, and the largest shell found measured 86 centimetres. The carapaces are smooth and olive green and the turtles have quizzical faces with small eyes and a pointed snout.

 

《国家地理》杂志对这一物种的描述如下:斑鳖是世界上最大的淡水龟鳖类动物,身长可以超过50厘米(最大的壳有86厘米)。其背壳光滑,呈橄榄绿色,长着一张非常搞笑的面孔,眼睛很小,吻部突出。 



This species predates by thousands of years the human settlements that now threaten its extinction. According to ancient books and records in China, the Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle was once common in Lake Tai, in southeast China, where it was worshiped as a holy icon representing merits and blessings. Despite declining numbers, they have continued to have a special place in Chinese folklore. Their uniqueness has made them a national icon and their extinction even more deplorable.

 

在栖息地被人类居所侵占并面临灭绝之前,斑鳖已经生活了千万年。根据中国古籍记载,长江斑鳖曾经在 太湖里很常见,那里的人们将其视为祥瑞的象征。尽管它们的数量不断减少,但在中国的民俗中仍然拥有特殊地位,其独特之处让它们成为国民性的吉祥物,因此其灭绝也更加令人扼腕。 



Although apparently common in the past, populations of the Giant Softshell Turtle have steadily declined over the years as a result of habitat degradation, the harvesting of adults and young turtles, and egg collecting.  This dramatic population decline apparently went largely unnoticed until about 10 years ago. Now only three Giant Softshell Turtles are known to survive: an aged pair (90 and 110 years-old) at the Suzhou Zoo and a solitary individual (probably a male) inhabiting a reservoir in Vietnam.

 

虽然过去颇为常见,但由于栖息地退化、以及人们对斑鳖成体和幼体的捕捉和鳖卵的捡拾,斑鳖种群数量逐年减少。但直到十年之前,人们才开始关注这个问题。如今,这个物种只剩下3个成员:苏州动物园的一对老年个体(分别为90岁和110岁)以及越南一座水库里的孤零零的一只“光龟儿”(可能是雄性)。

 

Efforts to breed the turtles at the Suzhou Zoo have been unsuccessful; every year the female lays about 100 eggs, but none has ever proved fertile. The problem seems to lie with the male whose penis and shell suffered extensive damage during combat with a rival male many years ago. This left him permanently impaired and unable to inseminate his mate.

 

  人们一直千方百计让苏州动物园的这对斑鳖繁殖,但迄今都不成功。雌鳖每年都产下约100枚卵,却没有一个能够孵化。问题似乎在于雄鳖,多年前它与另一只雄性争斗的时候生殖器和背壳都受到了永久性的损伤,无法让配偶受精。 



Artificial insemination of the female using sperm from the male was attempted in 2015 and again in 2016 to no avail. In mid-April 2017, the procedure was tried once more, although the outcome will not be known for several more weeks.  

 

2015年和2016年,人们曾尝试利用从雄鳖身上采集的精子对雌鳖进行人工授精,但都徒然无效。2017年4月中旬再次进行尝试,但结果要到几周之后才能见分晓。 



The obvious solution to this reproductive dilemma is to bring the male from Vietnam to China and allow him to fertilise the female in Suzhou Zoo. This has proven too complicated and risky to realise though.

 

显而易见的解决办法就是把越南的那只雄鳖带到中国与苏州的雌鳖交配,但这个办法被证明过于复杂而且风险太大,无法实施。 
 


But there is a glimmer of hope, albeit a faint one, in this otherwise bleak conservation prognosis. According to local fishermen one or possibly two Giant Softshell Turtles inhabit Madushan Reservoir, an impounded stretch of the Red River in Yunnan province, southeastern China.

 

但这个似乎已经被判了死刑的物种还有一线希望,尽管非常微弱。据当地渔民说,云南马堵山水库(红河上的一段蓄水河道)可能还有一只或者两只斑鳖。 



The reservoir filled in 2007, inundating a 50-kilometre section of river that was considered the last stronghold of these giant turtles in the wild. Local fishermen soon began to report sightings of an unusually large turtle.  

 

 

这个水库形成于2007年,被截流的50公里河道被视为野生斑鳖最后的据点。蓄水后不久,当地渔民就开始报告看到一只不同寻常的大鳖。 



These were usually chance encounters made when fishermen stumbled upon a giant turtle basking in the warm spring sun along the shore of isolated coves. Without exception, those privileged to view the turtle describe an ancient-looking reptile of colossal size. Even taking into consideration the tendency of fishermen the world-over to exaggerate, it seems likely that at least one very large Giant Softshell Turtle remains in Madushan Reservoir.  

 

通常情况下,渔民偶遇这只大鳖时,它都是在偏僻河湾岸边沐浴着春日暖阳。凡是有幸目击这一幕的人,毫无例外地把大鳖描述成一只体型巨大、形貌苍古的爬行动物。尽管我们知道全世界的渔民都免不了习惯性地夸张描述,但至少可能有一只长到很大的斑鳖在马堵山水库还有一线生机。 



So far this is the best news for conservation experts and academic institutions, including Huangshan University and Kunming Institute of Zoology, that have conducted field investigations looking for a fourth turtle since 2011.

 

对于保护专家和黄山学院、中科院昆明动物研究所这些学术机构来说,这是迄今听到的最好消息,从2011年以来,他们一直在进行野外考察,寻找第四只斑鳖。 



Unfortunately, from a biological standpoint, with no opportunities for reproduction, this lone survivor is as good as dead. Indeed, the Giant Softshell Turtle has been described by zoologists as a zombie species, a moniker applied to populations consisting of one or a few long-lived individuals (“the living dead”) and ultimately doomed to extinction because of continued lack of reproductive success.  

 

 

遗憾的是,一只孑然独栖的个体并不能对它的种群有任何贡献,从生物学的角度来说,如果不能参与繁殖,那么这个个体即便活着,也和死了没什么两样了。事实上,斑鳖已经被动物学家们冠上了“僵尸物种”的绰号,以形容那些仅仅剩下一个或者几个寿命很长的个体(“活着的死者”),但因为无法产生后代而不可避免地走向灭绝的种群。 



In 2016, with support from the National Geographic Air and Water Conservation Fund, Wildlife Conservation Society-China Program asked me to assist in the search for this extremely rare and elusive turtle. The reservoir is vast and searching for one turtle (or maybe two) was a daunting undertaking with no guarantee of success. I likened our task to the search for the Loch Ness monster, a prehistoric marine reptile reputed to inhabit a deep lake in Scotland that has so far eluded scientific scrutiny. Given the obvious similarities between these efforts, we soon began referring to our cryptic quarry as the Madushan Monster.  

 

2016年,国家地理空气与水保护基金和国际野生生物保护协会中国项目请我帮助寻找这种极端珍稀和难以捕捉的鳖类。马堵山水库很大,在里面寻找一只(或两只)鳖无异于大海捞针。我把这次任务比作寻找尼斯湖怪,这种据说生活在尼斯湖深水中的水生爬行动物迄今也没有出现在科学探测的视野之内。考虑到二者探测活动之间显见的相似性,我们很快就开始把这个神秘的大家伙称为“马堵山水怪”。 



Softshell turtles spend most of their time submerged; only rarely do they leave the water to bask and even more rarely, to lay eggs. Securing hard evidence that one or more Giant Softshell Turtles remained alive in the reservoir seemed like a long shot.

 

斑鳖大多数时间都在水里度过,偶尔才会出水晒太阳,而产卵则更为罕见。要确保“生命的证据”,获得一只或两只斑鳖在这个水库里生活的铁证,希望似乎极为渺茫。 
 


Our most promising strategy was simply to foot patrol the shoreline, continually scanning the water’s surface and potential basking sites with binoculars in hopes of catching a glimpse of the turtle. We also established bait stations – fresh fish suspended on a rope, held just at the surface.

 

我们最有希望的策略就是在岸边来回巡逻,用双筒望远镜目不转睛地盯着水面和岸上斑鳖可能会去晒壳的地方,期待能捕捉到斑鳖的惊鸿一瞥。我们也设立了饵料站,把新鲜鱼肉用绳子挂住,就漂在水面上。 



Day after day for almost two months, regardless of the weather, our team of three walked up and down the reservoir, pausing occasionally to scan for any sign of the turtle, camera at ready. But no turtle was found.

 

差不多两个月中,我们的三人团队日复一日、无论风雨地在水库边走来走去,偶尔停下来搜寻斑鳖的蛛丝马迹,随时准备拍摄,但结果毫无所获。 



In April 2017 we returned to the reservoir and resumed our search with support from professor Rao Dingqi, from Kunming Institute of Zoology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. This year we upgraded the baits and used the most rank-smelling “fishmeal” available, including fish entrails and pig livers, repugnant to us but a veritable smorgasbord to a hungry soft shell turtle.

 

2017年4月,我们再次来到马堵山水库,在中科院昆明动物研究所饶定齐教授的帮助下,继续寻找斑鳖的工作。我们用能搞到的最臭气熏天的东西当诱饵:鱼内脏、整鱼、鸡、猪肝、羊肝、牛肾。对我们来说,这些玩意泡在水里腐烂太恶心了,但对一只饥饿的鳖来说,可是真正让它开心吃到撑的自助大餐。

 

Unfortunately, as in 2016, our efforts were met with disappointment despite three weeks of intensive searching.

 

但和2016年一样,我们今年的工作仍然毫无成果。尽管三个星期里我们想尽办法,还是没能看到一只斑鳖。 

 

Our dilemma now is whether to continue searching for the Madushan Monster. Funding for conservation is always scarce, and for a forlorn species like the Giant Softshell Turtle, even more so.  

 

是否还要继续寻找“马堵山水怪”?现在我们进退两难。保护费用一向都很紧缺,对于斑鳖这样希望渺茫的物种来说更是如此。 



But the stakes are incredibly high: with the single surviving pair seemingly unable to reproduce, there is no denying the Giant Softshell Turtle is on an irrevocable slide towards extinction. Desperate situations call for desperate measures and no effort should be spared to capture the Madushan Monster and use this animal for breeding purposes.

 

但是,它们面临的风险却越来越大:仅存的能配对的两只斑鳖繁殖成功的希望不大,无可否认斑鳖这个物种正无法止步地滑向灭绝深渊。亟不可待的局势需要亟不可待的手段来挽回,我们不能放弃任何捉到“马堵山水怪”,并将它用于繁育的努力。



The fate of the Giant Softshell Turtle – a national icon – could very well hinge on capturing the Madushan Monster. While recognising the odds against success are high, as NASA’s motto reads, “Failure is not an option”.

斑鳖的命运,一个国之符号的存亡,可能很大程度上取决于“马堵山水怪”能否被安然捕获。尽管时局非常不利,但就像NASA的口号所说:“永不言败。” ​​​​

 

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