Conservationists attempt to save legendary Vietnamese turtle
Tuesday, November 04, 2003
By Margie Mason, Associated Press
There once was a magic golden turtle that lived in Hanoi's most enchanted lake. The creature was so powerful it snatched a divine sword from a warrior king and returned it to the gods of the depths nearly six centuries ago.
That tale has long been a favorite among young and old Vietnamese living in the capital city, but folklorists soon may have to rewrite the story to include a very sad ending.
That's because in real life, the last giant soft-shell turtle living in Hoan Kiem Lake probably will die alone, and at least one biologist says the species will then be extinct.
The elusive creature with a shell as big as a desk occasionally pokes its wrinkled head out of the murky waters of the downtown lake to take a breath, but few Vietnamese are lucky enough to glimpse it. And certainly no one knows its age. Scientists say it probably is the most endangered freshwater turtle species in the world.
"This species is a huge, huge animal that's incredibly endangered and it really needs help," said Anders Rhodin, co-chair of the World Conservation Union's Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group. "I don't think anyone is willing to try to capture that animal in Hoan Kiem Lake. I think it is thought to be sacred."
However, conservationists are determined not to let the legendary turtle species die out.
In November, researchers from Hanoi National University and the U.S.-based Wildlife Conservation Society plan to scout lakes in Thanh Hoa province, 100 miles south of Hanoi, where other giant turtles have been sighted but never confirmed.
The World Conservation Union ranks the turtle as critically endangered, the most threatened category, saying the animal is "perilously close to extinction" and "currently probably the most endangered freshwater turtle in the world."
Its precarious circumstances mirror those of many turtle species, especially in Asia.
The organization says 74 percent of the continent's 90 freshwater turtle and tortoise species are listed as threatened due to continuing demand for food and traditional medicine.
Source: Associated Press