Cuora yunnanensis is an extinct turtle known from 12 specimens collected from Yunnan, China, before 1908. We used ancient DNA methods to sequence 1723 base pairs of mitochondrial DNA from a museum specimen of C. yunnanensis. Unlike some rare ‘species’ recently described from the pet trade, C. yunnanensis represents a lineage that is distinct from other known turtles. Besides C. yunnanensis, two other valid species (C. mccordi, C. zhoui) are unknown in the wild but are supposedly from Yunnan. Intensive field surveys for surviving wild populations of these critically endangered species are urgently needed.