One of just four Yangtze giant softshell turtles remaining on the planet has died.
The turtle, estimated to be over 100 years old, was found dead in a lake in central Hanoi, Vietnam, on Tuesday.
And while conservationists obviously mourn the loss of such a rare specimen, Vietnamese are also distraught to the extent that local media were told to hold off reporting the news.
“To cheerfully welcome the party congress, newspapers and media please do not report on the turtle’s death for now,” came the ruling from the Communist Party’s propaganda department.
The turtle, known as “Cu Rua” (great-grandfather) was so beloved all over the country that it will reportedly be embalmed.
Locals were known to wait for days to spot him, believing Cu Rua was the incarnation of a creature which, according to mythology, lived in the lake in the 15th Century.
The creature – a giant turtle named Kim Qui – was a disciple of the Dragon King who had a crucial link with Vietnam’s first emperor since regaining independence from the Ming Empire in 1427, Le Loi.
Legend has it that Le Loi won independence for the country with the aid of a sword he borrowed from the Dragon King, which he then returned to the giant turtle.
The lake became known as Hoan Kiem, or the Lake of the Returned Sword.
Now, Cu Rua’s death is seen as not just tragic, but a terrible omen. Especially given today marks the start of the Communist Party’s annual congress, where a new leader is expected to be considered.
As for the species, the future looks grim. Several attempts to artifically inseminate the one remaining female have succeeded since 2009, but all 340 eggs produced in three seperate clutches have been infertile.
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