January 20, 2016
Cụ Rùa, a Yangtze giant softshell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) that was considered a sacred animal in its home country of Vietnam has died. Most of the country is mourning the death of the reptile, which was estimated to be more than 100 years old. Cụ Rùa lived in Hoan Kiem lake in Hanoi. Legend regarding the turtle species is well known. It is said that Le Loi, a man who was once emperor of Vietnam during the 15th century, borrowed a sword from the Dragon King to fight against the Chinese, who invaded the country. With the magical sword, Le Loi defeated the Chinese, claimed independence for Vietnam and then returned the sword to its divine owner via a giant softshell turtle that came and took the sword from Le Loi’s hands. The lake was then named Hoan Kiem, or Lake of the returned sword.
Cụ Rùa is said to be a descendant of that turtle and was one of just four known Yangtze giant softshell turtles left in the world. Now there are just three known individuals.
Cụ Rùa's body will be examined in an effort to determine what killed him, and after a determination is made, his body will be preserved. Cụ Rùa weighed 440 pounds when he died
Yangtze giant softshell turtles are critically endangered with just three known animals left. A breeding effort in China has yet to be successful. Their population has dropped drastically due to hunting, habitat loss, and change in environments for rice production. There is the potential that this species may be found in larger more isolated lakes, but as of now, just three survive.