“Swinhoe’s soft-shell turtle” was thought to be extinct in nature. Researchers from the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo found one of the rarefreshwater turtles recently in a lake in Vietnam. Until now experts hadthought the species was extinct in the wild. Experts from the Zoo’s Asian Turtle Program confirmed that they have identified the only known living specimen of a Swinhoe’s soft-shell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) in nature.
After three years of searching lakes and wetlands along the Red River in northern Vietnam, researchers sponsored by Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and the Cleveland Zoological Society, turned their focus to a lake just west of Hanoi, where local residents claimed to have occasionally seen the gigantic soft-shell turtle. Field biologist Nguyen Xuan Thuan, with Education for Nature in Vietnam, found and photographed the turtle as it basked on the lake’s surface, allowing scientists to confirm the animal was the extremely rare Swinhoe’s turtle.
Other than the turtle discovered by Cleveland Metroparks Zoo’s Asian Turtle Program, only three of the giant turtles are known to remain. Two of them are at zoos in China, and one is in the Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi. The Swinhoe’s soft-shell turtle is considered by many in Vietnam to be a national treasure. According to the Cleveland zoo, the Swinhoe’s soft-shell turtle is the largest freshwater turtle in the world.
Hanoi residents often line the banks of Hoan Kiem Lake in hopes of spotting the legendary turtle, which some believe brings good fortune to those who see it.