BEIJING - One of the world’s rarest turtles, a Yangtze giant softshell, has died in China, leaving just three known survivors of the species. The female turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) died in Suzhou zoo in southern China.

Experts had tried to artificially inseminate the creature, which was over 90 years old, for a fifth time shortly before she died. The species has suffered from hunting, overfishing and the destruction of its habitat.

One male, estimated to be more than 100 years old, is left in the Chinese zoo while two other turtles live in the wild in Vietnam. The elusive nature of the turtle means it has been difficult to identify the gender of the pair.

Local staff and international experts had attempted to artificially inseminate the female 24 hours before she died on Saturday afternoon.

They said there were no complications from the operation and she had been in fine health after the procedure, but deteriorated the next day. The cause of her death is being investigated and the turtle’s ovarian tissue was collected for future research.

The species has suffered from hunting, overfishing and the destruction of its habitat

The world’s rarest turtle has moved closer to extinction after a female died in a Chinese zoo, leaving just three known members of the species. The Yangtze giant softshell turtle, believed to be more than 90 years old, died in Suzhou zoo on Saturday, according to the Suzhou Daily.

Its death came a day after staff at the facility attempted to artificially inseminate the animal using semen from a male more than 10 years her senior, the newspaper reported. The zoo had tried unsuccessfully for several years to get the pair to reproduce naturally. An autopsy would be performed, Suzhou Daily said.

Besides the male at Suzhou zoo, there are only two other known members of the species left, both living in the wild in Vietnam and of unknown gender, according to conservationists. The Yangtze giant softshell turtle, the largest freshwater turtle in the world, grows to 100cm (39in) and weighs up to 100kg (nearly 16 stone).

Its main habitat was the Yangtze River and other inland Chinese waterways, however, aquatic life in China’s rivers has dwindled after centuries of hunting and, more recently, decades of pollution, shipping traffic and ecological disruption by hydroelectric dams.