A new partnership between the Turtle Conservation and Ecology Project (TCEP) and Professor Ha Dinh Duc of Hanoi University will investigate ways to provide greater protection for a species of softshell turtle (Rafetus sp.) residing in Hoan Kiem Lake. Professor Ha Dinh Duc has been researching the Hoan Kiem softshell turtles for nearly ten years, and is eager to move forward with efforts that will ensure the species long-term survival in the lake.
Hanoi residents understand well the cultural significance of the softshell turtles that reside within Hoan Kiem Lake. According to legend, a great turtle residing in the lake delivered a sword from the bottom of the lake, which enabled Emperor Le Loi (1400s) to lead Vietnams armies to victory against the occupying Chinese armies. Following the victory, the great turtle surfaced and retrieved the sword from the emperors hand, returning it to the bottom of the lake, hence the name, Hoan Kiem Lake, or Lake of the Restored Sword.
One particularly large softshell turtle ( 1 meter in length) has gained the attention of the nation. Swarms of people converge upon the lakes edge each time the giant softshell surfaces. According to traditional belief, a mere glimpse of the Hoan Kiem turtle is said to bring good luck to the fortunate observer.
However, the future of Hoan Kiems softshells appears to be threatened due to lack of suitable nesting grounds that would enable the species to reproduce. Through this cooperative effort with Professor Ha Dinh Duc, the TCEP will seek funds to establish a small nesting area on a small island at the center of the lake (where eggs have been discarded in the past), as well as initiate a head-start program for the species.
The head-start initiative will involve collection of a portion of each years egg output (<50%), incubating and hatching the eggs, and raising the young to a sie of 810 cm before releasing them back into the lake. The principal goal of head-start efforts is to secure the survivability of the species by ensuring that newborn hatchlings reach a minimum sie that will afford them a higher level of protection in the lake against predators such as large fish and birds. Through the combined outputs of natural nesting and head-starting juveniles, Professor Ha Dinh Duc believes that the lakes legendary softshell turtles will remain a visible reminder of Vietnams cultural history well into the future.
(Read more about the giant Hoan Kiem softshell turtle Legendary Turtle Should Be Making One of Its Rare Appearances Soon, Knight Ridder news article, 11 December 1998.