Posted by: Loren Coleman on April 21st, 2011
The Hoan Kiem turtle has been confirmed as a new species, after DNA analysis was performed.
Dr. Tran Binh, Director of the Institute for Biological Technology, on April 18, 2011, told Viet News that the institute had finalized the DNA test of the legendary turtle in Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake. It is a new species.
Thanks to Chad Arment and Branden Holmes for passing along the news.
The following, previously published article, gives some further details of the pre-discovery story:
Rumors had been murmured for years of a mythical beast living deep in the waters of a northern Vietnam lake.
Some in a village west of Hanoi claimed to be blessed by catching a mere glimpse of the creature’s concave shell as it crested above the surface of their lake.
Maybe this was the reincarnation of a giant golden turtle of national legend that bestowed upon the Vietnamese people a magic sword and victory over Chinese invaders in the 16th century.
Whether that sacred turtle has materialized in the 21st century will be a matter of cultural debate among the Vietnamese.
But the fact that the species – known by scientists as a Swinhoe’s soft-shell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) – is still alive in the wild at all is equally exhilarating news to scientists.
It’s especially exciting to researchers for the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo’s Asian Turtle Program. They will announce their discovery today.
“This is an incredibly important discovery because the Swinhoe’s turtle is one of the most critically endangered species of turtle in the world,” said Doug Hendrie, the Vietnam-based coordinator of the zoo program.
Hendrie said only three others are alive, all in captivity – two in Chinese zoos and the other cared for in the Hoan Kiem (“Returned Sword”) Lake in downtown Hanoi, the lake in which the legendary turtle appeared to reclaim the sword from the emperor.
“Finding one still living in the wild represents hope for the species – that others will be found and that the species will prevail in nature,” Hendrie said in an e-mail.
The zoo began its effort to preserve and protect Asian turtles in 2003 amid reports of increased killings for food or to make traditional medicine from their bones. Development and pollution also led to loss of nesting habitats along rivers, zoo officials said.
Hendrie said researchers have been aware of an Asian turtle crisis since the 1990s, but the Cleveland zoo “was really the first to step up to the plate and actually try to do something substantial.”
The zoo has put more than $275,000 into Asian turtle conservation efforts since 2000 and has supported Hendrie since 2003, officials said.
His team and scientists from Education for Nature-Vietnam had searched lakes and wetlands along the Red River for three years before hearing about the creature living outside Hanoi.
“This is one of those mythical species that people always talked about but no one ever saw, so it’s hugely significant,” said Geoff Hall, zoo general curator.
Significant, but not a certainty for its survival. “Our hopes are set on finding other turtles that have somehow been overlooked by hunters or were preserved in lakes and wetlands,” Hendrie said.
He said the turtle remains in the lake and that researchers notified the Vietnamese government of its existence.
The people of Vietnam, however, probably already were talking about it, said the Rev. Augustine Pham Lan of St. Boniface Catholic Church in Cleveland, who grew up in Vietnam.
“This is a well-known legend, part of their national his- tory and how Hanoi came to be the capital,” he said. “Vietnamese are very superstitious people, so the story that this turtle has returned will live on.”
Source: Cleveland Metroparks Zoo researchers find rare Swinhoe’s turtle living in wild in Vietnam, by Michael Scott, Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 16, 2008.