Turtle, believed extinct, discovered in Vietnam

Rafetus swinhoeiFrom Reuters:

Researchers find rare giant turtle in Vietnam

Biologists have identified a soft-shell giant turtle of cultural significance in northern Vietnam that was believed to be extinct in the wild, researchers said on Thursday.

After three years of searching, Asian turtle experts found, photographed and identified the turtle (Rafetus swinhoei), the only known living such specimen, in a lake west of the capital, Hanoi.

The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo in the United States, which sponsored the research, made the announcement in a statement.

“This is an incredibly important discovery because the Swinhoe’s turtle is one of the most critically endangered species of turtle in the world,” Doug Hendrie, the Vietnam-based coordinator of the U.S. zoo’s Asian Turtle Program, said in the statement.

“This species has legendary status among the people of Vietnam, so this is perhaps an opportunity for the legend to live on.”

Researcher Tim McCormack of Education for Nature-Vietnam, which was involved in the project, declined to provide the name of the lake or give other details of the turtle’s location for fear it would be hunted and sold into the wildlife trade.

The zoo said that only three other specimens of the turtle are known to scientists, two at zoos in China and one in the storied Hoan Kiem Lake (The Lake of the Returned Sword) in the centre of Hanoi.

The turtles can weigh up to 136 kg (300 pounds), measure up to 0.9144 metres (3-3.½ feet) and live more than 100 years.

But researchers say they have become virtually extinct because of hunters who killed them for food, loss of nesting habitats and pollution. The Asian Turtle Conservation Network says as many as 15 million turtles are traded a year in Asia, most of them ending up in China.

The reptile in the Hanoi city lake has a special place in Vietnamese folklore and whose appearance some believe to be a portent of an extraordinary event.

The legend tells how the 15th century Emperor Le Loi used a magic, divine sword to drive out Ming invaders from China.

A giant turtle emerged while Le Loi was boating on the lake and told him to return the sword to the Dragon King. The weapon shot from its sheath into the mouth of the turtle, which disappeared underwater.

Since then, the lake previously called Ho Luc Thuy or Green Water Lake, became known as The Lake of the Returned Sword.

More than seven years ago, Vietnamese zoologist Ha Dinh Duc named the reptile, estimated to weigh about 200 kg (440 lb), Rafetus Leloi, in honour of the emperor. (Reporting by Grant McCool;Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

See also here.

4 thoughts on “Turtle, believed extinct, discovered in Vietnam

    Oklahoma Moves to Protect State’s Freshwater Turtles From Commercial Over-harvest
    TUCSON, ARIZONA, May. 6 -/E-Wire/– Responding to a petition by conservation and health groups, the state of Oklahoma today enacted a three-year moratorium on commercial harvest of turtles from public waters. The Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission voted to enact the moratorium, recommended by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, which goes into effect immediately. During the moratorium, the state will study the status of Oklahoma’s wild turtle populations, the effects of commercial harvest, and the potential contamination of turtles sold as food with heavy metals and pesticides. The Commission also requested Department of Wildlife Conservation staff to further explore the potential need to close all waters, including private waters, to harvest.

    In March 2008 the Center for Biological Diversity and other conservation and health groups, seeking to end unsustainable commercial harvest of freshwater turtles and to stop the export of contaminated turtles to international food markets, filed petitions with the states of Oklahoma, Florida, Georgia, and Texas to ban commercial turtle harvesting in all public and private waters. Regulations are needed prevent further population declines of native southern turtle populations and to protect public health. Turtles collected in these states and sold as food are often contaminated with mercury, PCBs, and pesticides.

    “We applaud Oklahoma’s efforts to begin to address depletion of Oklahoma’s native turtles,” said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We urge the state to include private waters in the moratorium since they can produce contaminated turtles unfit for human consumption.”

    Wildlife exporters and dealers are commercially harvesting massive and unsustainable numbers of wild freshwater turtles from Oklahoma, Florida, and Georgia, the few southern states that continue to allow unlimited and unregulated take of turtles. Recent surveys by Oklahoma State University show depletions and extinction of freshwater turtles in many Oklahoma streams, and commercial turtle buyers in Oklahoma reported purchasing almost 750,000 wild-caught turtles from 1994 to 1999.

    The Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission resolution noted that 92 commercial turtle harvesters reported trapping 63,814 wild turtles in Oklahoma last year, that Oklahoma is one of three states currently allowing unregulated commercial harvest of turtles, and that “insufficient data exists to adequately determine the impact of unregulated commercial harvest of native turtle species in Oklahoma.”

    “Wild turtles are an important part of aquatic ecosystems and should not be allowed to be wiped out by over-harvest,“ said Miller. “Hundreds of thousands of wild turtles are sold locally as food or exported to international food markets from southern states each year, many contaminated with dangerous levels of mercury, PCBs, and pesticides – the potential health implications are staggering.”

    Most wild turtles harvested in the southern United States are exported to supply food markets in Asia, primarily China, which has depleted or driven most of its native freshwater turtles to extinction in the wild. Numerous southeastern turtles are sold to Asian seafood markets in the United States as well.

    Groups signing onto the petitions are the Center for Biological Diversity, Oklahoma Chapter of the Sierra Club, St. John’s Riverkeeper and Apalachicola Riverkeeper (FL), Satilla Riverkeeper and Altamaha Riverkeeper (GA), Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club and Pineywoods Group of the Sierra Club (TX), and the Center for Food Safety.

    The petitions and background information on the commercial harvest of freshwater turtles can be found on the Center for Biological Diversity Web site at:


    Contact Info: Jeff Miller,

    Center for Biological Diversity,

    (510) 499-9185

    Christopher Jones,

    petition co-author,

    (936) 615-3740

    Website : Center for Biological Diversity

    Center for Biological Diversity
    Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185 Christopher Jones, petition co-author, (936) 615-3740
    /WEB SITE: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org


  2. Invasion of good-luck turtles threatens legendary Hanoi species

    Nov 23, 2010, 9:24 GMT

    Hanoi(dpa) – Amid the horn-honking hustle of Vietnam’s capital, Hoan Kiem Lake is an oasis of relative calm that attracts tourists and locals alike, the luckiest of whom catch a glimpse of the massive Ho Guom turtle that is its most famous resident.

    Turtles are important in Vietnamese culture. But now foreign red-eared turtles are flourishing in the fabled lake, and environmentalists say they threaten the native species.

    ‘I wonder who puts them in,’ Andrea Kessner said Tuesday as she strolled around the lake, on holiday from Hamburg, Germany. ‘Maybe they think they’ll get a piece of good luck.’

    That is precisely the problem, said Pham Dinh Quyen, general secretary of the Vietnam Association for Conservation of Nature and Environment. Despite efforts by authorities, many people release the turtles into the lake during the Tet New Year celebration and on the 15th day of the lunar month.

    ‘Unfortunately, these turtles are adaptable and have been thriving in Vietnam, at the expense of local species,’ Quyen told the Vietnam News Agency.

    Red-eared turtles, indigenous to the United States, began to appear in Vietnam in 1997, according to Ha Dinh Duc, an expert on the species.

    ‘It’s hard to estimate precise numbers but they multiply very quickly and appear to be thriving,’ he said.

    The turtles aren’t predatory, but compete with native species for food. They have also been spotted at other Hanoi lakes, and in ponds at the city’s Temple of Literature.

    The invaders are much smaller than the Ho Guom. Visitors to Hoan Kiem Lake often cross a footbridge to Ngoc Son Temple, where they are able to gawk at and photograph a model of the species based on measurements taken in 1968. It weighed 250 kilograms, and measured 2.1 metres by 1.2 metres wide.

    Hoan Kiem translates as ‘Lake of Sword Restored,’ a reference to a 15th-century tale in which King Le ‘returned a precious sword to the tortoise genius,’ an exhibit at the temple explains.

    Ho Guom are reclusive and rare, but at least one occasionally pokes its human-sized head above the green water.

    It is said that it may be the lake’s last survivor, a 300-kilogram behemoth that could be 300 years old.

    Authorities are trying to protect Hoan Kiem, lake manager Nguyen Minh Tuan said. His staff has actively deterred individuals from releasing turtles and tries to educate the public about the harmful effects.

    Environmentalists said authorities should ban imports of turtles.


  3. Pingback: Vietnamese mourn rare turtle’s death | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  4. Pingback: Animals of colonel’s illegal zoo freed | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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