Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Wednesday Weird: Hoan Kiem Turtle

Today's Wednesday Weird starts with a bit of Vietnamese folklore.

In the fifteenth century Lê Lợi became the emperor of Vietnam. According to legend, Lê Lợi had a magic sword given to him by Kim Qui, the Golden Turtle God. One day, not long after the Chinese had accepted Vietnam's independence, Lê Lợi was out boating on a lake in Hanoi. Suddenly a large turtle surfaced, took the sword from Lê Lợi, and dove back into the depths. No one could ever locate the sword or the turtle. Lê Lợi then acknowledged the sword had gone back to the Golden turtle God and renamed the lake Hoan Kiem Lake, "The Lake of the Returned Sword"

It's a great story.

Except the turtle god actually exists.

The Hoan Kiem turtle is a giant turtle. Like, super giant. And it may be the only one in the word. It's actually considered a Lazarus species.

(A Lazarus species is an animal that has gone extinct, and then later is rediscovered. The most famous being the Coelecanth. If you're interested in Lazarus species, I would HIGHLY recommend the documentary Ghost Bird, which is about the possible rediscovery of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker a few years ago. It's a great movie, but also sad because it deals in modern day extinctions caused by humans)

Anyway, back to the turtle.

There are actually 3 other giant turtles in existence. 2 in captivity and one in another lake. But it was long suspected that the Hoan Kiem turtle was a different species than these other three and possibly the actual turtle that took the sword back 600 years ago.

The Hoan Kiem turtle was first thought extinct because in 1967 the only known Hoan Kiem turtle was killed when a fisherman who was supposed to net it and carry it for treatment instead killed it with a crowbar. That turtle weighed 440 lbs and was 6'3" in length. They preserved the body and it's on display at a temple on an island in the center of the lake.




But then, in 1998, an amateur cameraman caught on film a sighting of another turtle, proving the turtle still lives in the lake. Prior to its recent rediscovery, the turtle was considered only legendary. In 2000 the turtle was given a scientific name.

In 2011 the sacred turtle was captured for veterinary care (due to unusual activity making people suspect it was sick). It was determined to be a female and genetically separate from the 3 other turtles. The Hoan Kiem turtle is indeed it's own species. And, perhaps, even a god.


 

6 comments:

Maria Zannini said...

Ref: Ghost Bird

Thanks for the rec. I've always been fascinated by Lazarus species.

Southpaw said...

I adore turtles! This is an amazing story. I hope the "little" girl gets better and can go back to her lake soon.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That is one big turtle! Did anyone ask where she hid the sword?

Jamie Gibbs said...

Great A'Tuin's younger brother? All hail the turtle!

Jamie

Teebore said...

the only known Hoan Kiem turtle was killed when a fisherman who was supposed to net it and carry it for treatment instead killed it with a crowbar.

Wow, way to suck at being a vet AND a fisherman.

Christine Rains said...

Holy moly! That's a huge turtle.

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