Sunday, 13 March 2011

Rescuers try to capture Hanoi's sacred turtle (Via HerpDigest)

Rescuers try to capture Hanoi's sacred turtle: Veterinarians want to treat legendary creature, believed to be suffering the effects of living in a polluted lake
3/9/12 Vietnam News

Hanoians cram around Hoan Kiem lake in a bid to catch a glimpse of the sacred giant turtle.
Thousands of Vietnamese jostled and climbed trees around a central Hanoi lake on Tuesday to watch rescuers attempt to save an ailing rare turtle revered by the nation as sacred.

Dozens of workers waded chest-deep through the chilly green water in Hoan Kiem lake to try to capture the giant freshwater creature for the first time so it could be treated. It is one of the world's most endangered turtles and one of only four known living in the world. In Vietnam many believe it is magical and that it helped a Vietnamese king fend off Chinese invaders nearly 600 years ago.

In recent days, photos of the turtle surfacing with pink open sores on its wrinkled neck and legs have sparked near panic among the public. Lesions were also visible on its shell. Some experts fear pollution in the lake is slowly killing the turtle, which is affectionately called "great-grandfather".
Last week, a small island in the lake was expanded with sandbags to form a platform large enough for the turtle to rest, complete with a little pond. Rescuers were hoping to coax it ashore but, when it did not emerge on its own, dozens of men waded into the water to try to gradually net the creature and drag it to the island. But even with the military involved in the rescue, the turtle managed to slip through the nets and escape.

"I'm really glad that I'm part of the rescue operation and, hopefully, it will bring luck to my family," said Nguyen Thanh Liem, 65, a retired army captain who helped pull the net along with dozens of other onlookers. "I wish that he would be immortal to bless our nation."

Liem, like many other Vietnamese, believes the Hoan Kiem turtle is the same mythical creature that helped King Le Loi defeat Chinese invaders in the mid-15th century with a magical sword given to him by the gods. After the victory, legend has it that a giant golden turtle arose from the lake and grabbed the sword in its mouth before diving to return it to its divine owners.

Experts, however, say the real creature is more likely to be aged between 80 and 100-plus years. Its sex remains unknown. It weighs about 440lb (200kg) and has a shell the size of a desk. There are only four turtles of the same species, Rafetus swinhoei, known to be alive in the world: one in another lake in Vietnam and two in a Chinese zoo.

Hundreds of Vietnamese people have worked around the clock to save the reptile by removing chunks of debris and pumping in fresh water into the lake, which is flooded with raw sewage and trash.
Once it is dragged to shore, veterinarians plan to take skin and shell samples for analysis, and later determine how to treat it.

Some gathered at Hoan Kiem lake, which translates as "Lake of the Returned Sword", worried that trying to wrangle the creature could do more harm than good.

"It's not safe to use the net to try to catch the turtle. It could worsen his wounds," said Nguyen Hung Cuong, a 19-year-old student. "The authorities should have allowed the turtle to crawl to the island by itself where they can give him treatment."

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