Vietnam home to one of the last endangered turtles in the world: report

By Pham Huong, Phan Anh   March 25, 2018 | 10:42 pm PT
Three other turtle species found in Vietnam are also on death row.

The legendary Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle (also known as the Hoan Kiem Turtle) has been named on a list of the world’s top 25 most endangered tortoises and freshwater turtles published by the Turtle Conservation Coalition.

The Rafetus swinhoe is among the world’s 25 most endangered tortoise and freshwater turtle species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) 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 near-extinct species is joined by three others also found in Vietnam, as reported by the IUCN’s 2018 publication "Turtles in Trouble: The World’s 25+ most Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles."

The Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle is one of the largest freshwater turtles in the world, and can reach 120 kilograms (19 stones). The species is known from the Red River in China and Vietnam, and from China’s lower Yangtze River floodplain, as cited by IUCN.

The species is more commonly known in Vietnam as the Hoan Kiem 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 Vietnamese endangered turtle species are the Vietnamese Pond Turtle (Mauremys annamensis), the Zhou’s Box Turtle (Cuora zhoui) and the Southern River Terrapin (Batagur affinis).

Hoan Kiem Lake, one of Vietnam’s national heritage sites and a top tourist destination with great historical value, is perennially plagued by pollutants. Last December, Hanoi conducted a VND29 billion ($1.28 million) project to clean up the iconic lake.

The Hanoi Sewage and Drainage Ltd. spent two months dredging the lake, which it said had been “seriously polluted” with high levels of coliform and E. coli, as well as toxic gases and metals. It removed 57,000 cubic meters of mud from the lake and pumped in fresh water.

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