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Another Hoàn Kiếm Turtle Dies in Hanoi, Setting Back Conservation Efforts

It’s reported that a “Hoàn Kiếm turtle” living in Hanoi has died, further impeding efforts by conservationists to keep the species from extinction.

According to inside sources confirmed by Tiền Phong, the carcass of a Hoàn Kiếm turtle has been floating atop the Đồng Mô Lake in western Hanoi for the past two days. Government officials are currently investigating the cause behind its passing.

“Hoàn Kiếm turtle” is the colloquial name for Rafetus swinhoei, or Yangtze giant softshell turtle, an endangered reptile with fewer than five mature individuals living in eastern China and along the Red River Delta in northern Vietnam.

The softshell turtle carcass spotted in Đồng Mô Lake recently.

Experts believe that the Đồng Mô specimen could have died for days before being spotted by locals. It measured 156 centimeters in length and 93 kilograms in weight. According to the Asian Turtle Program, there are likely two turtle individuals living in the lake, but scientists have only managed to catch and genetically confirm one female in 2020 — believed to be the ill-fated one that recently passed away.

While Rafetus turtles once populated the many water bodies in the Red River Basin, environmental degradation and human activities have vastly reduced their distribution. The Suzhou Zoo in China once hosted a pair of Yangtze giant softshell turtles, but the female individual died in 2018 during breeding efforts.

In 2016, the last turtle of Hoàn Kiếm lake, a male often known by the honorific Cụ Rùa, passed away. With the recent passing, the world is down to two confirmed Rafetus swinhoei individuals: one in Suzhou and one in Xuân Khanh Lake, Hanoi (confirmed via eDNA in 2018). Even though it is possible that Đồng Mô Lake might house more turtles, more scientific testing is needed to determine that they indeed belong to the same species as Rafetus swinhoei.

[Photos via VOV]

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