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Hoan Kiem Turtle
The Hoan Kiem Turtle
The Hoan Kiem Turtle Rafetus leloii is probably the rarest species of freshwater turtle in the world. There are no known wild specimens and just three 'captive' animals. Two of these are held in China and one in Vietnam. This turtle is very closely related to the extremely rare Shanghai Soft Shelled Turtle Rafetus swinhoei and there are some who believe that the two species are one and the same, though specimens of swinhoei are usually much smaller.
The specimen in Vietnam is The Hoan Kiem Turtle and it lives in Hoan Kiem Lake in the center of Hanoi City. Though the turtle is very rarely seen it is revered by the Vietnamese people because of the part it plays in the legend and folklore of the country.
Hoan Kiem Lake
Legend of the Hoan Kiem Turtle
Back in the 15th Century there was a famous Vietnamese Emperor called Le Loi. He owed both his fame and success in battles with Ming Chinese to a Silver Sword which had been given to him by Kim Qui the mighty Golden Turtle God.
After China accepted Vietnam as an independent country Le Loi was relaxing on a boat on what was then called Luc Thuy lake when a huge turtle rose from the water, grabbed the silver sword and dove into the depths. Efforts to recover the sword all met in failure. Eventually Le Loi accepted that the sword had been returned to the Golden Turtle God.
Le Loi then renamed the lake to Hoan Kiem Lake means 'The Lake of the Returned Sword'.
As with all legends there are several different interpretations of the story.
The turtle living in the lake today is believed by some to be the same animal which took the sword some six hundered years ago.
A Rare Sighting Of The Hoan Kiem Turtle
There are some who believe that there are actually five turtles living in Hoan Kiem Lake but it is difficult to be sure due to the number of smaller Red Eared Terrapins which have been released there.
'The' turtle however weighs about 200 kilos and is about two metres long. It has been photographed a number of times.
There is a lot of concern as to the health and well being of the turtle which has been seen to have a number of injuries on it. Although the cause of these are unknown they area worry as the turtle will be picked at by Red Eared Terrapins and the polluted water will not help at all.
In March 2011 there are efforts underway to catch the turtle to treat it.
My part in Hoan Kiem Lake
During the time I was in Hanoi I spent at least a small part of every day wandering around Hoan Kiem Lake looking for the turtle. It was during one of these walks that I met a truly lovely lady (see The Itinerant ZooKeeper) who changed my life a little. She told me the legend of the Hoan Kiem Turtle and took me to the small Ngoc Son Temple museum at the side of the lake where there is a preserved specimen of a turtle which died back in 1967.
Legend or not I hope that the present specimen is captured, treated and returned to live another six hundered years.