Rare reptile of mythical lore — the last female of her species — dies in Vietnam

·2 min read

An extremely rare reptile, considered sacred by many, died recently in Vietnam, bringing its species to the edge of extinction.

The deceased creature was a Yangtze giant softshell turtle, distinguished by its large size and pig-like snout, according to VN Express, an online news outlet.

The 200-pound turtle died in a Hanoi lake of unknown causes, according to the outlet.

Tim McCormack, director of the Asian Turtle Program for Indo-Myanmar Conservation, told TIME that scientists believe the creature was the last known female of its species.

“I am truly heartbroken,” Forrest Galante, a biologist and television personality, wrote on Facebook, adding that the creature’s death leaves “only two known males remaining — one in Suzhou Zoo in China and another in Hanoi’s Xuân Khanh Lake.”

Galante is a conservationist who previously worked on an eDNA analysis of the turtle with the Asian Turtle Program, according to Reptiles Magazine.

The endangered reptile holds a mythical status in Vietnam because it features in a legend similar to that of England’s King Arthur, according to the International Society for the History and Bibliography of Herpetology.

The turtle is said to have delivered a magical sword to a king, which allowed him to repel invaders. Once the enemies were defeated, according to the legend, the turtle reappeared in a Hanoi lake and retrieved the weapon before vanishing beneath the surface.

The turtle is even worshiped by some, and when one of the last remaining individuals died in 2016, its remains were embalmed and put on display, according to Scientific American.

The species, which is only native to parts of China and Vietnam, began declining in the 1980s as a result of habitat loss and consumption, according to a study published in 2021 in the journal Oryx.

While there are now only officially two surviving members of the species, it’s possible more exist undetected in the wild. There have been over a dozen potential sightings of previously unknown turtles in recent years, according to the study.

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