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Hoan Kiem Turtle

Updated on July 12, 2011

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

Other Turtles

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.

Turtle in Museum


Jade Island - Hoan Kiem Lake



Submit a Comment

  • Peter Dickinson profile image

    Peter Dickinson 7 years ago from South East Asia

    Sadly, not one of mine David. Borrowed from Flickr. It is nice though.

  • Russell-D profile image

    Russell-D 7 years ago from Southern Ca.

    Peter -- great picture # 1 - loved the sky and reflection. Glad you shot it wide enough to get the entire picture. David

  • Peter Dickinson profile image

    Peter Dickinson 7 years ago from South East Asia

    Sounds more humane than putting them live on the grill as I have had described. I'm not going to give the gory details. It will be a long time before people can learn to appreciate these are living creatures which feel pain.

  • Russell-D profile image

    Russell-D 7 years ago from Southern Ca.

    Peter this prep was far from what Western eyes expect. The soup was made and served in a tureen. The live turtle was added. A sharp hammer blow said, "Soup's On"!. Chop Sticks then flew. David

  • Peter Dickinson profile image

    Peter Dickinson 7 years ago from South East Asia

    Hello, hello, - A bit sad though. I hope he/she survives. It will be an end of an era. Not much chance of the Chinese specimens breeding either.

  • Hello, hello, profile image

    Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

    That is so fascinating. Thank you.

  • Peter Dickinson profile image

    Peter Dickinson 7 years ago from South East Asia

    David - This is something I would not deliberately eat. I see them in the markets (all the markets) and wonder where all these turtles come from.

    The one in the museum at the side of the lake was pulled out and was going to be eaten. Happily rescued but sadly died.

    The preparation of turtles for food is far from pleasant.

  • Russell-D profile image

    Russell-D 7 years ago from Southern Ca.

    Peter -- this was obviously not the turtle still its shell which was served to us in a bowl of Turtle Soup aboard a boat crusiing the Li River. Our Chinese friends devoured it, live. We drank our beer. David Russell

  • Peter Dickinson profile image

    Peter Dickinson 7 years ago from South East Asia

    gr82bme - Thank you. I too am very fond of turtles.

  • gr82bme profile image

    gr82bme 7 years ago from USA

    Thank you so much for sharing the video. I love turtles. They are all over my house

  • Peter Dickinson profile image

    Peter Dickinson 7 years ago from South East Asia

    Eiddwen - Many thanks. I am pleased you enjoyed it.

  • Eiddwen profile image

    Eiddwen 7 years ago from Wales

    I'm sure that you know by now that I love any hub on animals/wildlife/nature etc.

    This one was a treat and thank you once more for sharing and I love your hubs.

    Take care


  • A.A. Zavala profile image

    Augustine A Zavala 7 years ago from Texas

    Another fascinating hub. I hope that the conservation efforts succeed in saving this species. Thanks again for sharing.

  • Peter Dickinson profile image

    Peter Dickinson 7 years ago from South East Asia

    Clare-Louise - Glad you liked it. I hope the poor animal gets the attention it needs in the not too distant future.

  • Clare-Louise profile image

    Clare-Louise 7 years ago from Birmingham UK

    Hi Peter! I really enjoyed the magical legend of the Hoan Keim turtle. thank you for sharing it!


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