The death of one of the world’s most iconic animals has put a species one step closer toward extinction.
The massive turtle known as Cu Rua, who passed away last week, had swum in the waters of Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi, Vietnam, for decades, if not more than a century. A beloved and worshipped animal, Cu Rua was one of the last four Yangtze giant softshell turtles (Rafetus swinhoei) left in the world.
Now only three remain: a turtle of unknown gender in another lake outside of Hanoi and a male-female pair in China. Conservationists attempted artificial insemination to impregnate the Chinese female and therefore perpetuate the species last year, but the resulting eggs were all infertile.
Cu Rua’s death appears to be of natural causes. Five years ago the 200 kilogram turtle needed to be rescued and temporarily protected after fishing hooks and invasive red-eared slider turtles (Trachemys scripta elegans) injured the animal. The rescue attempt required 50 volunteers and was witnessed by a thousand onlookers.
Considered to be incarnation of a mythical being that originally lived in Hoan Kiem in the 15th century, Cu Rua was revered by people throughout Vietnam, who often traveled to the lake to witness the sacred animal.
They may still have that opportunity in the future. Cu Rua’s body will now be embalmed and preserved for display.