ENDANGERED SPECIES AND ANCIENT ANIMALS IN VIETNAM
The largest primate ever was a Pleistocene ape that lived in China and Vietnam and weighed 300 kilograms. In 1998, a North Pole seal showed up off the coast of Vietnam.
Vietnam is home to five “most endangered” species, the most of any country. The nations with the most threatened species include: 1) Indonesia (128 mammal and 104 bird species); 2) Brazil (71 mammal and 103 bird species); 3) China (75 mammal and 90 bird species); 4) India (75 mammal and 73 bird species); 5) The Philippines (49 mammal and 86 bird species); 6) Peru (46 mammal and 64 bird species); 7) Mexico (64 mammal species); 8) Columbia (64 bird species); 9) Australia (58 mammal species); 10) Papua New Guinea (57 mammal species); 11) Ecuador (53 bird species); 12) Madagascar (46 mammal species); 13) the U.S. (50 bird species); 14) Vietnam (47 bird species).
One visitor to Vietnam wrote: One of the things that struck me is the lack of any wildlife anywhere. I now live in London, quite a large populated city, but there are many trees, green patches, parks and birds. The only birds I saw in Hanoi were in small cages outside people’s shops looking rather sad for themselves.
Frank Zeller of AFP wrote: “Many of Vietnam's wild areas have become denuded habitats, sometimes dubbed "empty forests." More than 300 animal species have disappeared and over 100 are threatened. With virgin rainforests now reduced to a patchwork, fewer than 100 tigers, 100 wild elephants and 10 rhinos are believed to survive in the wild in Vietnam, their gene pools already too small to ensure their survival here.” [Source: Frank Zeller, Agence France Presse, August 14, 2006]
Book Vietnam A Natural History Eleanor Jane Sterling, Martha Maud Hurley and Le Duc Minh (Yale University Press, 2006]
Tigers in Vietnam
It is estimated that there are about 200 tigers left in Vietnam. The number of animals has declined as a result of loss of habitat and hunting to obtain the bones, skin and claws for Chinese medicines. In the 1990s lots tiger skins and teeth were available in Ho Chi Minh City.
According to an old Vietnamese story, the tiger got its stripes when a man a captured it and tied it to a tree to show the animal who was boss—and set the tree on fire. The tiger was so powerful it broke free. The stripes are burn marks.
In September 2009, Reuters reported: “A zookeeper in Vietnam was mauled to death and another injured by a tiger that leapt out of its enclosure to attack the workers, newspapers reported. Zoo workers were planting trees in an adjacent enclosure when the tiger pounced on them after leaping over the dividing wall at the Dai Nam Zoo, just north of Ho Chi Minh City. One worker leapt into a pond to dodge the animal, which attacked the others in front of horrified visitors. "The wall between the two enclosures was made of concrete and about 5 or 6 meters high," the newspaper Thanh Nien quoted Duong Thanh Phi, director of the private zoo as saying. [Source: Reuters, September 11, 2009]
Rare Javan Rhino Found in Vietnam
In 1999, an extremely rare Javan rhinoceros was photographed in a swamp in Lam Dong Province southern Vietnam. At the time it was believed that there were fewer than 10 of these animals left in Vietnam if that many. In the late 1990s a rhinoceros horn could be sold for about $5,000 (a lifetime income in Vietnam) across the border in China. As part of an effort to save the animal the World Wildlife Fund printed up bumper sticker encouraging people to save "our" rhino,” but at that time most people didn't have cars especially in regions where the animals were hunted.
In July 1999, Reuters reported: “Automatic cameras have taken the first photographs of a critically endangered rhinoceros in Vietnam, the World Wide Fund for Nature said. The WWF said only five to eight of the one-horned rhinos, a sub-species of the Javan rhinoceros, were thought to survive in Vietnam, making it probably Asia's rarest mammal. All the rhinos roamed in the Cat Tien National Park in Vietnam's southern central highlands, it said in a statement. So little is known about the mammals that researchers are not sure whether the seven photographs taken are of the same Javan rhino, or if it is male or female. Scientists have never seen a live Javan rhino in Vietnam, relying on droppings, footprints and sightings by local villagers to document information on the mammals. [Source: Reuters, July 15, 1999 ***]
“Indeed, some scientists considered the Javan rhino in Vietnam extinct until a hunter was caught in 1989 trying to sell the skin and horn from one of the mammals. The WWF statement said the pictures were taken in May 1999 during a survey by the WWF and the Cat Tien National Park as part of a $6 million conservation project in the park. Automatic cameras were set up in the park and took pictures when objects disturbed a laser beam connected to the camera. Between 50-60 Javan rhinos are believed to exist in Indonesia's Ujung Kulon National Part in West Java, the WWF added. ***
Vietnam’s Rare Javan Rhinoceroses
In 2004, AFP reported: “No one knows how many Java rhinoceroses remain in southern Vietnam. It could be six or seven, perhaps even eight. However many there are, they are the last of a sub-species that is threatened with extinction and is rarely seen by humans. At the end of June the WWF wound up a six-year programme to protect the shy animals in Vietnam's southern Cat Tien National Park. [Source: Agence France Presse, July 4, 2004 \\]
“The rhinos, known scientifically as Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus, are a slightly smaller sub-species of the 40 to 60 Java rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus sondaicus) that live on Indonesia's Java island. "They are the last few individuals in the world of this sub-species," said Gert Polet, the WWF project's chief technical advisor. Until 15 years ago, it was widely thought the Vietnam rhinos were already extinct. \\
The Vietnam rhino was last of the Javan rhino species on mainland Asia and the last known surviving member of the Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus subspecies — one of three recognised groups of Javan rhino populations. Another is already extinct. R. sondaicus inermis was formerly found in north-eastern India, Bangladesh and Burma. The remaining subspecies, R. sondaicus sondaicus, is now found on Java, Indonesia. However, since the 1930s, the animals — now estimated to number no more than 50 — have been restricted to the westernmost parts of the island. [Source: Mark Kinver, BBC News, October 25, 2011]
Javan rhinoceros: A) Scientific name: Rhinoceros sondaicus. B) The species is listed as Critically Endangered because fewer than 50 individuals remain. C) Weight: 900kg — 2,300kg. D) Height: 1.5m — 1.7m; Length: 2.0m — 4.0m. E) Male Javan rhinos possess a single horn about 25cm long. F) It is estimated that they can live for 30-40 years. Females reach sexual maturity between 5-7 years, and then give birth to a calf about once every three years. (Source: IUCN/IRF).
Efforts to Count and Save Vietnam’s Last Javan Rhinoceroses
In 2004, AFP reported: ““After facing French hunters during the colonial times, the animals saw their habitat significantly reduced and disturbed by the Vietnam war, which ended in 1975, and during which vast swathes of forest were destroyed. Some Vietnamese scientists believed however the shy animals may still be around after accounts from villagers in the area, WWF conservation biologist David Murphy said. "But the rest of the world, the big scientific community around the world, thought that it was extinct," Murphy said. [Source: Agence France Presse, July 4, 2004 \\]
“A study at the end of the 1980s confirmed that the villagers had been correct: there were still a few rhinos in the area. In 1999 the WWF launched its programme to save them with the assistance of the Vietnam government, the World Conservation Union and the International Rhino Foundation. They spent 6.5 million dollars on the Cat Tien park, with the project also covering conservation of the area, promotion of tourism, education and security for the animals. About 300,000 dollars was spent on the rhinoceroses only, Polet said. \\
“The experts had to be patient: far from being the stereotypically aggressive rhino ready to charge at any intruder, these one-horned creatures are shy and flee at the slightest disturbance. The first known photograph of one of them was only taken in 1999. The conservationists working on the project had to content themselves most of the time with tracking the animals' spoor. And the only information currently available about the group is that there is at least one female and no young. The WWF was able to guess the number of the animals in the park from DNA analysis of their droppings, carried out by an American laboratory. \\
“But it is still not certain how many exist. "The only thing we're sure of is that they are not enough," Polet said. While winding down the project, the WWF has appealed to donors to maintain interest in the species. The rhinos appear to be safe from poachers, but their habitat is being encroached on by farmers looking for new land. They are easily upset by any disturbance and this probably accounts for their lack of reproduction. "It is a terrible situation. Rhinos can live maybe 40 years. The last reproduction was in 1997. We might have 10 years, maximum 20 left," said Polet. The WWF has bought land for the animals to protect them from the farmers around Cat Tien park and hope the authorities will keep doing so in the years to come. "The key thing for the future is to really work into securing that habitat and reducing disturbance," said Murphy. \\
“In Hanoi the authorities promise they will not abandon the Java rhinoceros. "We want to pursue research as well as preservation activities with competent international agencies," said Nguyen Xuan Dang from the Institute of Ecology and Biological resources. And in time, even if the process is slow, sensitive and complicated, man might have to move over for the animal. "We are thinking about moving four or five villages before 2010," he said. \\
Javan Rhino 'Now Extinct in Vietnam'
In October 2011, Mark Kinver of BBC News wrote: “A critically endangered species of rhino is now extinct in Vietnam, according to a report by conservation groups. The WWF and the International Rhino Foundation said the country's last Javan rhino was probably killed by poachers, as its horn had been cut off. Experts said the news was not a surprise, as only one sighting had been recorded in Vietnam since 2008. "It is painful that despite significant investment in Vietnamese rhino conservation, efforts failed to save this unique animal, " said WWF's Vietnam director Tran Thi Minh Hien. "Vietnam has lost part of its natural heritage." [Source: Mark Kinver, BBC News, October 25, 2011 +++]
“The authors of the report, Extinction of the Javan Rhino from Vietnam, said genetic analysis of dung samples collected between 2009-2010 in the Cat Tien National Park showed that they all belonged to just one individual. Shortly after the survey was completed, conservationists found out that the rhino had been killed. They say it was likely to have been the work of poachers because it had been shot in a leg and its horn had been cut off. +++
“Globally, there has been a sharp increase in the number of rhino poaching cases. Earlier this year, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) published a report that said rhino populations in Africa were facing their worst poaching crisis for decades. An assessment carried out by Traffic, the global wildlife trade monitoring network, said the surge in the illegal trade in rhino horns was being driven by demands from Asian medicinal markets. +++
“Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, chairman of the IUCN's Asian Rhino Specialist Group, said the demise of the Javan rhino in Vietnam was "definitely a blow". "We all must learn from this and need to ensure that the fate of the Javan rhino in [Indonesia] won't be like that of Cat Tien in near future," he told BBC News. "Threats to rhinos for their horn is definitely a major problem. But in Indonesia, due to active work done by rhino protection units and national park authorities, no Javan rhino poaching has been recorded in Indonesia for past decade." Dr Talukdar observed: "What is key to the success of the species is appropriate habitat management as the Javan rhinos are browser and it needs secondary growing forests." He warned that the habitat within the national park on Java serving as the final refuge for the species was being degraded by an invasive species of palm. "As such, control of arenga palm and habitat management for Javan rhinos in Ujung Kulon National Park is now become important for future of the species." +++
Monkeys in Vietnam
The Tonkin snub-nosed leaf monkey, a small white and black primate, are labeled “critically endangered” and “ particularly vulnerable” as they have been hunted almost to extinction. There are only about 140 left. According to one conservationist a population of 200 is necessary for the species to survive.
Endangered concolor gibbons have had their numbers reduced by poaching and loss of habitat resulting from farming. They survive in isolated areas of Laos, Vietnam and China.
The Cat Ba langur lives only on the small rocky island of Cat Be, just off the coast of Vietnam. It has never been very numerous and is threatened by tourism and development of the island.
Duoc langurs are very small primates that live mostly in Vietnam. They have very sensitive digestive systems. Ones kept in captivity must be fed five times a day. Two big meals overwhelms their digestive systems.
Cat Ba Langur
The Cat Ba langur lives only on the small rocky island of Cat Be, just off the coast of Vietnam. There is no evidence that the Cat Ba Langur ever inhabited the mainland. It has never been very numerous and is threatened by tourism and development of the island. It is also known as the golden-headed langur or white-headed langur
Cat Ba langurs((Trachypithecus poliocephalus) reach a head-body length of 50-60 centimeters and a body-weight of 15-20 kilograms. The tail length ranges from 82-89 centimeters. Like other langur species, they have slim hands and feet and reduced thumbs, a sacculated stomach to assist in the breakdown of cellulose and large salivary glands to assist it in breaking down food. The fur colour ranges from bright golden to yellowish-white on the head, shoulders, and rump, the back is dark chocolate brown, almost black, and there is a grey band running from the thighs to the back, forming a V-shape above the tail root. The long hair of the back forms a shoulder cape. The fur colour of infants is a flamboyant orange.
Cat Ba langurs are social, diurnal and arboreal. An average social group comprises 4 to 5 animals. They live in forests around limestone formations, at an elevation from 70-100 meters, and regularly sleep in caves throughout the year. One langur group may have up to 12 different resting caves. The group spends only one or two nights in the same cave before moving on to other feeding and sleeping places. These monkeys gives birth to a single offspring. The breeding season of this species is probably in April. Their diet mainly consists of leaves, but also includes fresh shoots, flowers, bark and some fruits that are not palatable to human beings. Most of the langur’s food has very high concentration of fibre and tannic acids, and it often contains substances that would be poisonous to other animals, including human beings.
According to some reckonings the Cat Be langur is a subspecies of the white-headed langur which has another subspecies living in Guangxi, China (T. p. leucocephalus). Both taxa are overall blackish, but the crown, cheeks and neck are yellowish in T. p. poliocephalus, while they, as suggested by its scientific name, are white in T. p. leucocephalus. The Cat Ba langur is among the rarest primates in the world, and possibly the rarest primate in Asia. The taxonomic position of the Chinese population, while also highly endangered, is more confusing. It has been considered a partially albinistic population of the Francois' langur, a subspecies of Francois' langur, a valid species, or a subspecies, T. poliocephalus leucocephalus. Comparably, poliocephalus was considered a subspecies of Francois' langur until 1995. [Source: Wikipedia +]
The Cat Ba is considered to be one of "The World's 25 Most Endangered Primates," and is assumed to have declined by 80 percent over the last three generations. According to the Cat Ba Langur Conservation Project, the The Cat Ba langur's skin is black and the pelage color is dark brown; head and shoulder are bright golden to yellowish-white. The tail is very long (85 centimeters) compared to the body size (50 centimeters). Babies are colored golden-orange; the pelage starts to change its color from about the fourth month on. Males and females look alike. The Cat Ba langurs live in groups, usually one male with several females and their offspring. They are diurnal animals, adapted to living in limestone habitat. Each group has its own territory, defended by the adult male who also initiates the location of the group. The females usually give birth to a single baby every 2–3 years, which becomes mature at 4–6 years old. Langurs have an average life expectancy of 25 years. Food mainly consists of leaves, but also fresh shoots, flowers, bark, and some fruits. +
Tonkin Snub-Nosed Monkey
The Tonkin snub-nosed monkey, a small white and black primate, are labeled “critically endangered” and “ particularly vulnerable” as they have been hunted almost to extinction. Vietnam’s largest primate species, it has a very distinctive look that is almost comical due to the upturned nose, tufted ears, pale blue rimmed eyes and thick, pink lips. It has different calls including a loud hiccough-like alarm call.
The unusual and mysterious Tonkin snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus avunculus) is one of the 25 most endangered species of primate in the world. It is only found in Vietnam and was believed extinct until its rediscovery in the early 1990s. In May 2002, Fauna & Flora International (FFI) discovered a vitally important population in a small patch of limestone forest known as Khau Ca, in Ha Giang Province. [Source: Fauna and Flora International]
Size: head and body length: 50 to 60 centimeters; tail: 65 to 92 centimeters. Weight: males: approximately 14 kilograms; females: 8.5 kilograms. Habitat: lowland tropical broadleaf monsoon forest in montane limestone formations. Surving number: estimated at 260. Presumed to be extinct until it was rediscovered in 1989. Other Names: Tonkin Snub-nosed Langur, Dollman's Snub-nosed Monkey, Dollman's Snub-nosed Monkey. Range: Tonkin Snub-nosed Monkeys are endemic to and occur only in Northern Vietnam in the provinces of Tuyen Quang, Bac Kan, Ha Giang and Thai Nguyen.
Tonkin Snub-nosed Monkeys are very unique colobines. They have a slender body with a creamy white front (Stomach, inside of upper arms and legs and face) and a black-dark grey back, shoulders, backs of arms and legs and backs of feet and hands. They have a bald, flat face with dark eyes surrounded by light blue and thick, vibrant pink lips surrounded by dark blue or gray as well as small tufted ears. Their nose is "smushed" and upturned showing the nostrils, which is where they get the name "snub-nosed monkey" and on the neck, adults they have orange throat patches. They also have a very long tail that isn't prehensile and is grey at the base, becoming more white near the tip. While males and females can't easily be distinguished, infants can. Instead of black fur, they have grey and they also lack orange throat patches and white-tipped hairs on the tail. [Source: Earth’s Endangered Species]
The Tonkin snub-nosed monkey hangs out in bands of 25 to 80 individuals organized around family groups that range and rest together. They are active during the day. They move through the trees searching for edible leaves, fruits and seeds. When hunted the large groups split into smaller bands. But as their habitat rapidly declines it becomes harder for them to escape from hunters in the deep forest.
Little is known about Tonkin Snub-nosed Monkeys because they're very rare and elusive. They're diurnal and are active during the day and are mainly arboreal, climbing and moving along the branches of the canopy on all fours and leaping to other branches when necessary. Considered an herbivore, their diet consists of leaves, fruits, flowers and seeds.
Tonkin Snub-Nosed Monkey Conservation
The main long-term threat to the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey at Khau Ca is the limited area of the forest. Surveys have highlighted several potential threats to the species and its habitat locally, including illegal logging, hunting, exploitation of a range of non-timber forest products, shifting cultivation, fuelwood collection and grazing of livestock in the forest. Fauna & Flora International’s (FFI’s) Vietnam Conservation Support Programme and Ha Giang Provincial Forest Protection Department are implementing a community-based primate conservation project with the aim of providing long-term conservation for the Tonkin snub-nosed monkey in Ha Giang Province.
The Tonkin snub-nosed monkey is listed as "Critically Endangered", by the IUCN Red List.
Currently, their population is believed to number around 250 individuals. It could be larger as they are likely to be discovered in more places. According to one conservationist a population of 200 is necessary for the species to survive.
Tonkin Snub-nosed Monkeys are consumed by humans, but their meat isn't very tasty. Instead, they're often poached so their parts can be used in traditional medicine. Their forest habitat is heavily deforested and fragmented due to agriculture, human settlements, legal and illegal logging, mining (mainly for gold) and harvest/collection of non-timber products. Even in protected areas, their habitat is illegally destroyed. [Source: Earth’s Endangered Species]
The Tonkin snub-nosed monkey is protected by law and occur in some protected areas and national parks. International trade of them and their parts is prohibited due to their listing on CITES and helpful efforts are being carried out by Fauna and Flora International, and they have helped discover a new population near the northern border of China and Vietnam. In addition, there is a conservation action plan currently working to save Tonkin Snub-nosed Monkeys by further researching, raising awareness, enforcing stricter laws and more. Although these efforts have tried and are trying to conserve these rare primates, their threats still severely endanger them and perch them right near the brink of extinction.
Gray-Shanked Douc Langur
The gray-shanked douc langur was first described by biologists in 1997. It has hardly ever been seen in the wild. The individual described by scientists was found in a cage at a market. It shares the same habitat in the Truang Son region with black shanked douc langurs. Scientists are debating whether it qualifies as a unique species or a subspecies.
In 2007, The Hindustan Times reported: “Scientists have found the world's largest-known population of an endangered monkey species in central Vietnam, increasing its chances of survival, conservationists said. Surveys since 2005 by the WWF global environmental conservation organization and Conservation International recorded at least 116 of the tree-dwelling grey-shanked doucs, one of the world's 25 most endangered primates. "It's very rare to discover a population of this size with such high numbers in a small area, especially for a species on the brink of extinction," Barney Long, a conservation coordinator with WWF Vietnam, said in a statement. "This indicates that the population has not been impacted by hunting like all other known populations of the species." [Source: The Hindustan Times, July 3, 2007 ||~||]
“The species has only been recorded in the five central Vietnam provinces of Quang Nam, Kon Tum, Quang Ngai, Binh Dinh and Gia Lai. Fewer than 1,000 are believed to exist, and until the discovery announced, only one other population with more than 100 animals was known, the statement said. Conservation International said 65 percent of Vietnam's primates are endangered. ||~||
Rare Birds in Vietnam
The male crested argus has the longest tail feathers of any bird (as long as 70 inches). It is found in only two places: the Tuong San area of Vietnam and Laos and the montane areas of Malaysia.
An impoundment in the Mekong Delta for a water growing tree called the melaleuca has also been adopted as a feeding place by flocks of rare eastern sarus cranes. The numbers of these birds, which once were widespread, have dwindled to around a thousand, primarily from loss of wetland habitat. The impoundment has been set aside as a reserve area, even though many locals would rather see it drained and used for rice production. Scientists observing the crane say that "for those on the edge of survival the environment is not an immediate concern," but since it the only area where the birds are known to feed: "If its lost, they could be lost too." [National Geographic Geographica, December 1990].
In March 2003, Alex Kirby of BBC News wrote: “Almost nine-tenths of Vietnam's most important sites for bird conservation are at risk from hunting and trapping, experts say. The warning comes from BirdLife International, a global alliance of ornithologists working in more than 100 countries. It says the danger comes mainly from a huge rise in the trade in wildlife, and from agricultural pressure. But BirdLife praises the Vietnamese Government's work to establish protected areas for wildlife. With the Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources, Hanoi, BirdLife has published a guide, Key Sites for Conservation in Vietnam. It says 56 of 63 of the most critically important places for bird and biodiversity conservation (88 percent) are affected by illegal hunting and trapping. Second to that as a threat is more intensive farming, which affects 43 of the sites. The guide says this is especially serious for wetlands, including coastal mudflats and wet grasslands in the Mekong delta. [Source: Alex Kirby, BBC News, March 13, 2003]
Crocodiles and Turtles in Vietnam
Vietnam has more than 100,000 farmed crocodiles, which are raised for their skin and meat, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. The Khanh Viet Farm exports to several countries, including Japan and Australia. "It's a very good business," said company spokesman Le Tien Anh. "We were planning to expand the farm to 10,000 crocodiles next year."
In 2007, Associated Press reported: “Soldiers, militiamen and local residents searched for hundreds of crocodiles on the loose in central Vietnam after they escaped from a farm during heavy floods. Sixty-seven crocodiles have already been captured or killed, but an unknown number continue to pose a danger to villagers in Khanh Hoa province, said Nguyen Nhu Long of the provincial military command. "We have sent in more soldiers to search for the animals because we are worried that they may crawl into people's houses in search of food," Long said. "They haven't been fed for several days now." The reptiles escaped at the weekend when flood waters knocked down a fence surrounding the state-owned Khanh Viet Farm, a popular tourist attraction that housed 5,000 crocodiles. [Source: AP, November 13, 2007 -]
“Several hundred people live in the immediate area of the farm. The crocodiles escaped into a stream that passes the farm and then joins a river flowing through several villages. "We have warned the villagers to be careful and asked them to call the authorities if they spot any crocodiles," said Khanh Hoa province's governor, Vo Lam Phi. Soldiers wielding AK-47 assault rifles shot dead 11 crocodiles as they crawled up a river bank on Monday, Long said, and villagers killed four others. "Each of them weighed from 200 kilograms to 250 kilograms (440 to 550 pounds), and it took seven or eight people to carry their dead bodies away," Long said. -
“Owners of the Khanh Viet Farm have offered a reward of up to $100 to anyone who returns one of the missing reptiles, which the company exports to several countries, including Japan and Australia. These are among the nearly 5,000 crocodiles at a farm in Vietnam's Khanh Hoa province that didn't escape over the weekend, but hundreds of others are thought to have been swept away by flooding.” -
Grant McCool of Reuters wrote: “ All 28 turtle species found in Vietnam are listed as endangered by international conservationists. Admired for their longevity and sometimes eaten as an aphrodisiac, turtles are considered a culinary delicacy in Vietnam and several other Asian countries. A stew of tofu, banana and turtle, including the bones and shell, can cost as much as $100 in a Hanoi restaurant. [Source: Grant McCool, Reuters, April 18, 2005]
Hanoi’s Legendary Giant Turtle
According to Vietnamese legend, a giant turtle in Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem lake reclaimed a magic sword given to king Le Loi in the 15th century that he used to win independence from China's Ming Dynasty. lake was thereafter named 'Ho Hoan Kiem', or 'Lake of the Returned Sword', and Hanoi has been built up around it. A giant turtle—which some believe is the same animal from the Lo Loi era—still lives in the lake. Scientists say the turtle belongs to the critically endangered 'Rafetus Swinhoei' family of turtles, although others have dubbed it an independent sub species, 'Rafetus Leloii'.
Margie Mason of Associated Press wrote: “There once was a magic golden turtle that lived in Hanoi's most enchanted lake. In real life, the last giant soft-shell turtle living in Hoan Kiem Lake probably will die alone, and at least one biologist says the species will then be extinct. The giant turtle was believed so powerful, it snatched a divine sword from a warrior king and returned it to the gods of the depths nearly six centuries ago. That tale has long been a favorite among young and old Vietnamese living in the capital city, but folklorists soon may have to rewrite the story to include a very sad ending. The elusive creature — with a shell as big as a desk — occasionally pokes its wrinkled head out of the murky waters of the downtown lake to take a breath, but few Vietnamese are lucky enough to glimpse it. And certainly no one knows its age. [Source: Margie Mason, Associated Press, November 4, 2003 ]
“Scientists say it probably is the most endangered freshwater turtle species in the world. "This species is a huge, huge animal that's incredibly endangered and it really needs help," said Anders Rhodin, co-chair of the World Conservation Union's Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group. "I don't think anyone is willing to try to capture that animal in Hoan Kiem Lake. I think it is thought to be sacred." Conservationists are determined, however, not to let the legendary turtle species die out. In November, researchers from Hanoi National University and the U.S.-based Wildlife Conservation Society plan to scout lakes in Thanh Hoa province, 100 miles south of Hanoi where other giant turtles have been sighted, but never confirmed. "We're going to the province to see whether there's any truth to this," said Douglas Hendrie, the society's Asia regional turtle conservation coordinator who has worked in Vietnam since 1996. "The species is very, very, very important to Vietnam culturally and therefore of high priority when it comes to conservation."
“Legend has it that in the mid-15th century, King Le Loi defeated Chinese invaders with a magic sword given to him by the gods. After the victory, the king was said to be boating on the lake when a giant golden turtle rose to the surface and grabbed the sword in its mouth before plunging deep into the water to return it to its divine owners. The lake was later renamed "Ho Hoan Kiem," which means "Lake of the Returned Sword," and the tale became an important part of Vietnamese culture that continues to be taught in school and performed at popular water puppetry shows.
“But just like the Loch Ness Monster or the Tasmanian Tiger, no mythical creature comes without controversy. Vietnamese biologist Ha Dinh Duc, who has studied the lone turtle since 1991, reported in 2000 that it was a new species and named it Rafeteus leloii after the king. Other scientists dispute his conclusion, saying at least five other turtles of the same species, Rafeteus swinhoei, have been found in zoos and a monastery in neighboring China. But Duc, who vows to study the turtle for the rest of his life, said no one has spent more time researching and viewing it than he has. "There's no other types of turtle like this in other countries," Duc said. "Their assessment is totally wrong." As he slid his wire glasses up his nose and rifled furiously through years of yellowed papers and stacks of color photos, he spoke about the turtle like a child. It weighs about 440 pounds and its massive shell stretches 6 feet long and 4 feet wide. Its gender remains a secret along with its age because only Duc has been lucky enough to view it completely out of the water a few times as it rested on an island in the middle of the small, shallow lake.
“Hendrie said the turtle could likely live up to 100 years, but Duc believes it's conceivable for the animal to be old enough for Le Loi himself to have released it into the lake, which was once part of the Red River. The World Conservation Union ranks the turtle as critically endangered, the most threatened category, saying the animal is "perilously close to extinction" and "currently probably the most endangered freshwater turtle in the world." Its precarious circumstances mirror those of many turtle species, especially in Asia. The organization says 74 percent of the continent's 90 freshwater turtle and tortoise species are listed as threatened due to continuing demand for food and traditional medicine. Hendrie and Rhodin, the other expert, said they're optimistic about finding other giant soft-shell turtles in the wild or placing the ones in China together in captivity to try to save the species from extinction. Turtles remain fertile until death, so it's possible for even very old animals to mate, but they said more research is necessary before any steps can be taken.
“However, the prospects for the Hoan Kiem turtle, as it is known, look bleak. Duc said three others like it emerged from the lake in the 1960s, but all of them have died and all of the scientists agree only one remains. One huge stuffed specimen is displayed in a small temple on an island in the lake, but not even Duc is bold enough to disturb the revered creature that will undoubtedly have its own legend centuries from now. "No one is allowed to touch this turtle," Duc said, sitting by the water. "If something went wrong, who would be responsible? It would be a big deal that would impact the soul of a nation."
Vietnam’s Legendary Turtle Finally Caught
In April 2011, John Ruwitch of Reuters wrote: “ Experts in Hanoi captured a legendary giant turtle for medical treatment, a milestone in a case that has grabbed national attention and cast a spotlight on environmental degradation in Vietnam. Several dozen people including special forces soldiers swam and used boats to pull three rings of nets around the rare beast the size of a car door with a head as big as a human's, in Hoan Kiem Lake in the heart of the Vietnamese capital. Thousands of people crowded around the lake to watch. [Source: John Ruwitch, Reuters, April 3, 2011 -]
“In recent months the turtle has surfaced almost twice as frequently as in previous years, according to state-run media, and what appear to be pink sores have been photographed on its shell, neck and feet, raising alarm. Experts believe the turtle, weighing some 200 kg (440 lb), may be suffering the effects of pollution, snaggings by fish hooks, attacks from smaller red ear turtles that have proliferated in the lake, or all three. "Generally, the turtle is fine and stable," turtle expert Ha Dinh Duc, part of the capture operation and a member of a steering committee set up to make decisions about the elderly animal, said after it was ensnared. -
“Scientists have said they believe the turtle caught on Sunday may be more than 100 years old. "You could say it is a representative of the country so bringing the turtle up for treatment is a necessity," said 78-year-old Hanoian Luu Tien Xuan. "The people are concerned. The leaders are concerned... It would be sad if Ho Guom didn't have the turtle in it anymore." The reptile tore a hole in a net on March 8 and escaped when workers waded into the algae-green waters of the lake, also called Ho Guom, in a first attempt to catch it. A few weeks later the turtle appeared to get past two of the nets, but a shirtless swimmer believed to be from special forces grabbed the shell and rode the animal a short while to prevent it from getting past the third net, television footage showed. It was put into a pen on an island in the middle of the lake that has been dubbed its hospital and sanitorium. -
“The case has made headlines in the local media for months, sparking some criticism over the state of the environment in fast-developing Vietnam. "We have been too apathetic with regard to the turtle in the past as we rolled along with the speed of industrialisation and modernization and forgot to protect its habitat... Save Ho Guom, save the environment, save ourselves!" a person named Le Tuan posted on the popular news website Vnexpress.vn. Critics also say it took scientists and the government too long to decide how to care for the animal. "Nobody wanted to take responsibility if it died," said one Hanoi resident who lives near the local government office facing the lake.” -
Vietnam's "Professor Turtle" and the World’s Largest Freshwater Turtle
Grant McCool of Reuters wrote: “Meet "Professor Turtle," keeper of The Lake of the Returned Sword and its mysterious giant reptile. Zoologist Ha Dinh Duc, one of Hanoi's best-known characters and world famous in his field for tracking the huge turtle living in the center of Vietnam's capital, is retiring soon. But he is not giving up his quest for recognition of the turtle as a unique species after 15 years of following its movements in the murky green water. "I call the turtle great-grandfather," said Duc, 65, who displays an obvious attachment to the 2-metre (6 ft 7 in) long and 1.1-metre (3 ft 7 in) wide endangered turtle he named after an emperor. "Nobody knows the exact age of the turtle, but for me, it is maybe more than 600 years old." In 2000, Duc named the giant turtle Rafetus Leloii. The zoologist gleefully says that his fellow Vietnamese call him "Professor Turtle". [Source: Grant McCool, Reuters, April 18, 2005 +/+]
“With tourism booming in Hanoi, it is not surprising that there have been more giant turtle sightings reported in recent years. Five already this year, 27 in 2004 and 29 in 2003, compared with just nine between 1991 and 1993, the years Duc first began campaigning to protect the endangered turtle and the urban lake. The slightly built, bespectacled professor records all reported sightings of Rafetus Leloii on a computer at his house in Hanoi. The room is filled with turtle books, photographs, videotape and documents, some stacked untidily on the floor. He has about 300 photographs of the turtle's activity on the lake, including images of its pudgy, human-sized head peeking above the surface. Duc's pictures show that the "monster" has a distinctive white spot on the back of its head. +/+
“Duc, who will retire this year from the College of Natural Sciences at Hanoi National University, does not know exactly why there have been more reported sightings. No one knows what the turtle eats, he said, but probably anything it can find. Nor does Duc know whether the turtle is male or female or how it came to be in the lake, but he is convinced it is the largest freshwater turtle alive. There are larger marine turtles around the world. +/+
"I think this is a very, very special species for Vietnam because there is only one," Duc said. Three of their kind appeared in the lake in the 1960s and all died. "I have spent some time looking in lakes and rivers in Vietnam and I have not found any others." Western turtle expert Douglas Hendrie and other scientists have written that there are other turtles of the same species in China. World Conservation Union scientist Hendrie told an environmental conference in Vietnam last month that the giant turtle is thought to be one of six of its species remaining. There are 10 other turtle species in the lake, Duc said. Just over a year ago, invasive red-eared sliders, native to the United States and kept as pets, appeared in the lake. The species "eat everything" and were probably put there by people who were tired of keeping them as pets, Duc said. +/+
Nuclear Worms and Other Sea Creatures in Vietnam
In the early 2000s, fishermen around the globe became enthralled with Vietnamese nuclear worms. These creatures are bright pink and can reach a length of over two meters feet and a thickness of a human finger. They are particularly good as bait for rockfish and one worm can be cut into enough pieces to fit on 40 fish hooks. There are worries the creature might infest waterways outside of Vietnam. Fortunately, they can not service in temperatures below 68°F. In Vietnam there usually found around coconut trees.
In June 2004, two people were killed and 85 other were hospitalized after eating poisonous octopuses in Vietnam. The trader said he sold more than 20 kilograms of blue ring octopus at a market in Nihn Thuan Province, 200 kilometers north of Saigon, said he sold the octopuses many times before but didn’t know the blue ring octopus was poisonous. Many of these admitted to the hospital suffered from diarrhea and vomiting. Seventy-two, including 28 children, remained hospitalized for a period of time.
In April 2004, nearly 1,000 locals turn out in Vietnam to venerate a dead whale discovered off the coast of southern Vietnam. Deutsche Presse Agentur reported: “The 25-metre-long whale was found floating dead in the sea around 500 meters off the coast of Ben Tre province, said Duong Thi Hien, a local official from the province 100 kilometers south of Ho Chi Minh City. In some parts of central and southern Vietnam, whales are still worshipped as protectors of fishermen. In Vietnamese, the mammals are called — ca ong — meaning respected elderly fish. Whales are supposed to be gods for fishermens and bless them during sea trips. There have been nearly 1,000 people from the locality and neighbourhood coming to make offerings of money and incense, said Hien. The whale, which is estimated to weigh around 30 tons, will be buried off the beach for around three months, after which its bones will be dug up and taken to a temple . The local official said he did not know the species of whale. [Source: Deutsche Presse Agentur, April 2, 2004]
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.
Last updated May 2014