Giant turtle sightings set Vietnam capital abuzz
April 13, 1998
Ceramic turtle on display at Hanoi National University
Web posted at: 1:56 p.m. EDT (1756 GMT)
HANOI, Vietnam (AP) -- The Vietnamese capital of Hanoi is
buzzing with excitement following reported sightings of rare giant
turtles in a downtown lake where thousands of pedestrians
pass daily. And amateur video footage purportedly of the turtles, long
believed to be nothing more than myth and legend, now has
skeptics wondering whether the giant beasts really do exist.
For years, people have reported sighting three giant turtles
in Hanoi's Hoan Kiem Lake. The latest sighting, and perhaps
one of the most credible, came on March 24, when passersby
caught a glimpse of the turtles as they surfaced to take in
the spring air.
An amateur cameraman caught the creatures' appearance on
video, which subsequently aired on Vietnamese television.
The station also claimed the turtles made a second appearance
on April 5. Researchers who have been trying to get a
glimpse of the turtles believe they could be the only ones of
their kind in the world.
Big turtle stories date back 5 centuries
Stories about the mysterious creatures have been circulating
for about 500 years, starting with the legend of King Le Loi
and the giant turtle of Hoan Kiem Lake. According to legend,
the gods gave Le Loi a magic sword, which helped him battle
the Chinese invaders.
Having freed Vietnam, the king and his courtiers were boating
on the lake when a giant turtle arose, took the magic
sword, then plunged to the depths and returned the blade to
its divine owners. Since that time the lake's name has been
"Ho Hoan Kiem," which means "Lake of the Returned Sword."
The story is retold in thousands of schoolbooks, and in
popular performances at Hanoi's water-puppet theaters.
A Vietnamese television station broadcast this amateur
recording of an alleged giant turtle in Hoan Kiem Lake
Mythology, science mix in turtle pursuit
Mythology and science mix in the work of Hanoi National
University's Professor Ha Dinh Duc, the world's foremost
expert on the turtles of the Returned Sword Lake.
"The Hoan Kiem turtle is the world's biggest fresh water
turtle. It can measure 2 meters (6 1/2 feet) long and can
weigh as much as 200 kilograms," said Professor Ha Dinh Duc
of Hanoi National University.
Professor Duc has been studying the turtles for the past
decade, sometimes in conjunction with international reptile
specialists. Some biologists feel these turtles could be the
same as a rare species found near Shanghai, China, but
Professor Duc disagrees.
"I've compared these with other fresh-water turtles elsewhere
in the world and I see real differences. I hope further
studies will show this is a new species," he said.
Hoan Kiem turtle could be new species
A Hoan Kiem turtle, found and preserved 30 years ago, is now
displayed at a small temple on an island in the lake. The
plaque tells visitors it is thought to be more than 500 years
old -- old enough, in fact, to be the turtle of the legend.
A comparison of the preserved turtle with images of the
Shanghai species shows clear differences in coloration and
head shape, supporting Dr. Duc's thesis that this could be a
new species. Much remains unknown about these ancient
monsters living in the center of downtown Hanoi -- their
number, reproductive ability, origins, and especially,
whether or not they're unique to the Lake of the Returned
"If we have cooperation from international experts and they
determine this is a new species, it will be a significant
contribution to world biological diversity. And since the
turtles are right here in the middle of urban Hanoi, many
people can easily come to see them," Professor Duc said.
Meanwhile, plans are afoot to clear the lake of pollution
that could potentially harm the creatures, and the
construction of an artificial beach has been proposed to
Copyright 1998 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.