Blood brother of Hanoi's revered turtle god found on city outskirts

By Pham Huong   April 13, 2018 | 12:59 pm GMT+7
Blood brother of Hanoi's revered turtle god found on city outskirts
A rare Rafetus swinhoe turtle in Dong Mo, Hanoi. Photo by Timothy McCormack/ATP

The discovery brings the number of known Yangtze giant softshell turtles in the world to four.

A rare turtle of the same species as the legendary beast that used to patrol Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake has been identified in one of the city’s suburbs, the Asian Turtle Program (ATP) said on Thursday.

The discovery increases the number of known Yangtze giant softshell turtles in the world to four.

Experts from the ATP used DNA technology to confirm that the turtle in Xuan Khanh Lake, 60 kilometers (37 miles) west of central Hanoi, is of the endangered rafetus swinhoes species.

“The discovery brings new hope of mating for wild species and helps multiplication,” said Timothy McCormack, a researcher from the ATP.

The ATP received notice of sightings of a softshell turtle at Xuan Khanh Lake in late 2016, and commenced on-site observation.

The photo of the turtle taken in May 2017 at Xuan Khanh lake. Photo by Nguyen Van Trong/ATP

The photo of the turtle taken in May 2017 at Xuan Khanh lake. Photo by Nguyen Van Trong/ATP

Last May, hi-res photos taken by a local fisherman suggested that the turtle belonged to the endangered species, prompting the ATP to collect water samples and send them to Washington State University for analysis.

The results confirmed that the animal has the same genes as the deceased turtle from Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi.

The turtle is among the world’s 25 most endangered tortoise and freshwater turtle species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Turtle Conservation Coalition. There are only four of the species left in the world, one of which can be found in Dong Mo Lake on the outskirts of Hanoi.

The species is more commonly known in Vietnam as the Hoan Kiem, or Sword Lake, turtle, named after a lake in Hanoi where the mythical Golden Turtle God was returned a magical sword. Prior to its discovery near the end of the 20th century, many thought it to be extinct.

In January 2016, a turtle of the same species, affectionately called Cu Rua (Great-Grandfather Turtle) by Hanoians, died in Hoan Kiem Lake due to old age. While the oldest tortoise in the world is now about 186 years-old, the turtle in Hoan Kiem Lake is estimated to have lived for 200 years.

The three other endangered turtle species found in the country are the Vietnamese Pond Turtle (mauremys annamensis), the Zhou’s Box Turtle (cuora zhoui) and the Southern River Terrapin (batagur affinis).

 
 
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