Farewell to Hanoi’s beloved turtle

A giant turtle considered sacred in Vietnam and venerated as a symbol of the country’s independence struggle has died this week, according to Vietnamese state media.

The Hoàn Kiếm turtle, as it was called, lived in the Hoàn Kiếm lake, in the old centre of Hanoi. It weighed about 200 kilograms and was said to be anywhere between 80 and more than 100 years old.

The turtle’s death prompted an outpouring of grief and stoked fears it boded ill for an upcoming Communist leadership handover.

The reptile, a critically endangered Swinhoe’s softshell turtle occupies a key mythological role in Vietnam, and in the past the turtle generally surfaced only rarely, with its sightings deemed auspicious.

Experts said it was one of only four turtles — better known as Yangtze giant softshells — in existence. Two are in a zoo in China and the other lives in a different lake in Hanoi.

Tim McCormack, of the Asian Turtle Program, said it was a “great blow” to have lost the turtle, which was “possibly the rarest species on the planet”.

“It was clearly an ancient animal, I would say easily over 100 years old, and so its death does not come as any real great surprise,” he said.


The turtle in better times…