January 18, 2021
The Legacy of Viet Nam’s Sacred Turtle
- as seen by -Thang Nguyen
People in Viet Nam know about the legend of the country’s most famous hero from the 15th century, Le Loi King, who was granted strength from a magic sword to defeat Ming occupation forces. During peacetime, a giant golden turtle emerged from the lake where Le Loi traveled to retrieve the weapon. The lake was later renamed as Hoan Kiem Lake or Lake of Returned Sword. The giant turtle has become the symbol of the country’s independence and prosperity.
Indeed, enormous turtles have lived in Hoan Kiem Lake. These turtles were identified as Swinhoe’s softshell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei), or Hoan Kiem turtle. Unfortunately, after the death of an individual in Viet Nam in 2016 and a female individual in China in 2019, there were only three known individuals left making it become the most endangered turtle in the world.
A new hope came on October 22, 2020 as conservationists discovered a female individual in Dong Mo Lake in Ha Noi, Viet Nam and confirmed that it is definitively a Swinhoe’s softshell turtle. Authorities also believe there is at least one more of these turtles in Dong Mo Lake and another in nearby Xuan Khanh Lake in Ha Noi, Viet Nam. Ultimately, conservationists aim to ensure at least one male and female are given a chance to breed and recover this species.
The discovery is an important step to ensure this turtle can return from the brink of extinction to keep the legend alive and inspire future generations.