​Sacred Vietnamese Turtle Dies Amid Independence Struggles

Sacred Vietnamese Turtle Dies
Author: John LesterBy:
Staff Reporter
Jan. 21, 2016

A sacred Vietnamese turtle dies after it was found dead in Hoan lake in central Hanoi late Tuesday. The giant turtle venerated as a symbol of Vietnam’s independence struggle, and its death is prompting an outpouring of grief and fears the death bodes ill for an upcoming communist leadership handover, according to CNN.

The sacred animal, a critically endangered swine soft-shell reptile, occupies a key mythological role in Vietnam. The Vietnamese turtle generally surfaced only rarely, with its sightings deemed auspicious.

Experts say it was one of only four species of the reptile — better known as Yangtze giant soft shells — in existence. Two are in a zoo China and the other lives in a different lake in Hanoi.

The sacred Vietnamese turtle that died, which weighed about 440 pounds, was said to be anywhere between 80 and more than 100 years old. It was “possibly the rarest species on the planet and definitely the rarest turtle species… It’s a great blow,” to have lost it, Tim McCormack of the Asian Turtle Program, said in a statement.

“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.

Because of the cultural significance of the turtle, which many Vietnamese considered “almost sacred”, it has not been possible to include the Hoan Kiem animal in any breeding programs which could have helped conserve the species, he added.

The sacred turtle’s demise was widely mourned on Vietnamese-language blogs and social media, with many warning it was a bad omen for upcoming changes in the ruling Communist Party, which begins its five-yearly congress on Thursday.

“This is bad news for many people in Hanoi,” said one insider. Vietnam’s authoritarian rulers will choose a new party leader, president and prime minister at the party congress.

In a story taught to all Vietnamese schoolchildren, the sacred turtle of Hoan Kiem is the custodian of the magic sword of Le Loi, a 15th century rebel leader who vanquished Chinese invaders. Although officially an atheist country, many Vietnamese are deeply superstitious.

“I feel empty. My children, grandchildren will only know the turtle from legend,” online commentator Duong Nguyen wrote.

Reports about the sacred Vietnamese turtle’s death first appeared in state media late Tuesday, but some were taken down apparently under pressure from communist authorities.

The sacred Vietnamese turtle that died is being kept at a temple on a small island in the lake pending an official decision on how to proceed, state media said, adding that embalming was being considered.

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