The people of Hanoi and the rest of Vietnam mourned the recent death of Cu Rua, one of the last four surviving Yangtze giant soft-shelled turtles in the world. Cu Rua has always been thought to be auspicious to the nation along with her historical and cultural significance.
The gentle, 200-kilogram giant was hailed by the Vietnamese as the earthly incarnation of an ancient being from the 15th century, a national myth which is taught to schoolchildren. The legend which gave the lake its name, Hoan Kiem, or “Lake of the Restored Sword” is one about Emperor Le Loi’s victory against China’s Ming Dynasty.
Cu Rua, meaning “Great Grandfather turtle” was, despite the name, discovered to be female when she needed rescuing after being injured in 2011. Her treatment lasted for three months before she was released back into the lake. She has been then examined periodically. Her age was determined to be about 120 years old, as she has occupied the lake’s waters for decades. Cu Rua would surface time and again, momentous occasions which travelers visit Hanoi to witness. Her last appearance on the surface of the Hoan Kiem lake was recorded to have happened on December 21 of last year, VietNamNet Bridge reports.
The other three remaining of her species, scientifically named Rafetus swinhoei consist of a male-female pair residing in China’s Suzhou Zoo, and another believed to be male from outside of Hanoi. Breeding efforts for the male-female pair have failed in the past; while the two continue to mate, none of the eggs hatched, as these were infertile. These efforts are being pushed forward but would require collaboration between nature and the government.
The giant soft-shelled turtle’s population began to rapidly deplete since the late 1990’s, according to National Geographic. The turtles were poached for their shells, which are used in Chinese traditional medicine. Along with habitat loss and the pollution, these freshwater species’ existence has been sadly threatened.
Notable to the Vietnamese community was Cu Rua’s passing coinciding with the Communist Congress which happened on last week’s Thursday. Nguyen Thieng Hung, a caretaker of a Buddhist temple a small distance from the lake voiced out a common sentiment among locals: that Cu Rua’s death is a grisly omen of things to come. In fact, the Congress has tried to suppress the news of Cu Rua’s passing to avoid such assumptions, but Vietnamese social media won over as they expressed their regret over the loss of their sacred icon of independence.
Cu Rua’s death was concluded to be by natural causes. Her remains would be embalmed and placed for display in a nearby museum, preserving her in loving memory.
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