The old turtle from Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake is famous but not many know about his origin. Dr. Ha Dinh Duc, who has researched the old turtle for 20 years, said that recently a foreign expert has asked for his documents and the latest photos of the ancient turtle so that he could present them at a workshop in Singapore.
However, Duc refused because the expert claimed that the ancient turtle in Hoan Kiem Lake belongs to the Rafetus Swinhoei species, found also in Shanghai, China.
Duc said that historical books from the Ly Dynasty, during which King Ly Cong Uan moved the capital from Hoa Lu (Ninh Binh province at present) to Thang Long (Hanoi), didn’t mention big turtles in the Luc Thuy Lake (Hoan Kiem). Not until King Le Loi came to throne, the legend about turtle in Hoan Kiem Lake appeared.
“Perhaps King Le Loi brought the turtles from Thanh Hoa (in central Vietnam) to release in Luc Thuy Lake. As historical records say that there was a species of giant turtle in Luong River, Lam Kinh (Thanh Hoa). A legend also says that when Le Loi hid from the invaders in Lam Kinh, a big turtle followed to wipe his traces”.
The researcher said that if the ancient turtle in Hoan Kiem Lake were from Hanoiother turtles would be found in other lakes in the city. Both the West Lake and Hoan Kiem Lake both source from the Cai Co River (Red River).
Duc said he went to Shanghai to work with a natural science museum. “I looked at the two pictures of the Hoan Kiem turtle and Shanghai turtle, and they are completely different,” he said.
To determine the origin of the legendary turtle, the Institute for Biological Technology made DNA tests in 2004 and concluded that the turtle in Hoan Kiem Lake is a new species of turtle. It belongs to the fresh-water giant soft shell turtle species.
According to Duc, there was a species of fresh-water giant soft shell turtle in some lakes which were formed from Hong, Ma and Da rivers and the Institute for Biological Technology has some specimen.
“Genetic analysis shows that the turtle in Hoan Kiem Lake is unique so I have concluded that the ancient turtle is a new species and named it Rafetus leloii (Le Loi),” Dr. Duc said.
Some turtle researchers like Peter Mayland from Eckerd University and Professor Kraig Adler from Cornell University (USA) agree with Dr. Duc.