The Untimely Death of Great-Grandfather Turtle

It is with a heavy heart that we share the news of the death of the Yangtze Giant Soft-shell Turtle of Hoan Kiem Lake, one of only four remaining Rafetus swinhoei in the world. It was reported dead on January 19th in the lake, located in downtown Hanoi. The turtle, known by many Vietnamese as Cu Rua, or Great-Grandfather Turtle, was believed to have died of natural causes.

Read: Vietnam's Sacred Turtle Dies at an Awkward, Some Say Ominous, Time at The New York Times

The death of this rarest of turtles pushes it closer to the edge of extinction, and its survival is now in the hands of only a few people. Dr. Gerald Kuchling (Turtle Conservancy Advisory Board) has led a captive breeding project for the species, based on the world’s only known female, which Gerald discovered in Changsha Zoo, and one old male in the Suzhou Zoo. Though this is a last ditch effort to save the (currently) most endangered turtle in the world, we remain cautiously optimistic for the survival of this incredible species.

Cu Rua was considered by many in Vietnam to be the sacred, earthly embodiment of a mythological creature known as the Turtle of the Lake. According to 15th-century legend, a nationalist hero drove out Chinese forces with a magical sword, and then returned the sword to a turtle in Hoan Kiem Lake, or the “Lake of the Returned Sword.”

The loss of this critically important animal brings the species one step closer to extinction.
— Peter Pritchard of the Chelonian Research Institute and TC Advisory Board Member
The Hoan Kiem Lake Turtle—one of the last four known—gets a checkup in Hanoi, Vietnam, in 2011. Photograph from Vietnam News Agency/AFP/Getty Images

The Hoan Kiem Lake Turtle—one of the last four known—gets a checkup in Hanoi, Vietnam, in 2011. Photograph from Vietnam News Agency/AFP/Getty Images

Max Maurer

Turtle Conservancy, 49 Bleecker Street, Suite 601, New York, NY, 10012, United States