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Chasing the magic turtle

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The turtle in Hoan Kiem Lake has always been shrouded in misty green sludge of mystery; even now, as rescue efforts go forth, many questions remain.

Cu Rua surfacing in late February, 2011. Photo by Gia Khoa - DTiNews


A few years ago there were many residents of Hanoi, especially foreign ones, who did not believe in the existence of Cu Rua, the legendary turtle of Hanoi’s central lake. Of course, now, there is no doubt.

Some didn’t believe the once rare accounts of the turtle’s surfacings. Many thought it was just a cross between myth and hearsay.

According to legend, Cu Rua played an instrumental role in keeping out the Chinese invaders. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that (according to the legend) Vietnam would not exist today if it were not for the old turtle of Hoan Kiem Lake.

Nowadays, the turtle has been surfacing with more and more frequency. Each of his appearances draws crowds ready with their camera phones. Many people think that seeing him will bring luck.

Ironically, the fact that the turtle has been showing himself more often is not a good sign, at least for the turtle himself.

He is sick, and he is rare.

Now the attention of scientists and scholars from around the world are focused on Hoan Kiem, and this ancient creature.

Still, with all of this expertise, much mystery remains. It has been claimed in many news outlets that there are only 4 living specimens left in the world, two of them in captivity in China.

Yet even this is as unclear as the waters of Hoan Kiem. Dr. Ha Dinh Duc, insists that Cu Rua, is not the same species as the other, similar-looking, soft shell turtles kept in Chinese zoos.

Many people are sceptical about this claim. Yet Mr. Duc has been studying Cu Rua longer than anybody else in the world. He also has extensive documentation, including photos, and even correspondence with scientists from universities, such as Cornell, which indicate that he may be right.

If Duc’s claim is true, this could be the last living turtle of its kind on the planet.

Workers fixing up a temporary treatment facility for Cu Rua on the Turtle Tower

in the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake. Photo by Gia Khoa - DTiNews


But the entire business of the sacred turtle is murky. For example, many Hanoians claim that the turtle is 500 years old.

When asked about its age, Dr. Duc gives a smile and a wave of the hand. He cannot tell the age. Nobody can. Perhaps 100 years. Maybe more, maybe less. Nobody is even certain about the gender.

When speaking to people who live and work around the lake, things become less, and not more, clear.

One older woman, Mrs. L., who excercises by the lake every day says that she knows for sure that there are at least two turtles. “One is Blackhead and one is Yellowhead,” she said. She does not believe that the turtle is sick. “He comes up to fish.”

A young woman named Hoa, who goes by the name of “Flower”, has been selling postcards along the lake for ten years. Flower believes that the Cu Rua is 500 years old. About the frequent appearances, she said, “Trust me, sometimes when the turtle comes up it means something will happen - with the country or maybe with the weather.”

When asked if she knew that the turtle was sick, Flower said, “He’s sick on the outside, but inside he’s strong. 10 people tried to catch him, but the turtle got through the net.”

She is correct. During the first capture attempt, Cu Rua somehow got through the net they were using to bring him to an enclosure for treatment.

Flower also affirmed that there were other turtles of the same kind in the lake, saying that she has seen more than one surface at the same time.

Perhaps such views may seem supersticious. Definitely they are hearsay. But in with this subject, the most knowledgeable specialists cannot definitively disprove her claims. .

When interviewed, even Dr. Duc made mention of another turtle with a black head.

In Dr. Duc’s words, “This is where legend meets reality.”


Source: Dtinews


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