In the news today is a troubling story concerning the sacred turtle of Vietnam’s Hoan Kien Lake. This rare and endangered turtle is sick and slowly dying from pollution.
The following story from our Squidoo Lens, The Mysterious Creatures of Cryptozoology is about the legend of Kim Qui and some information on the turtle itself.
Kim Qui is a legendary turtle that has repeatedly come to the assistance of Vietnamese rulers over the millennia to help them defeat their enemies and defend their kingdoms from invaders. In a story parallel to that of King Arthur and Excalibur, there is a traditional account about how Kim Qui, the Golden Turtle God, gave Emperor Le Loi a magical sword bearing the inscription “The Will of Heaven.” This sword gave the emperor great strength and was instrumental in his leading his forces to defeat the invading Ming Chinese armies in 1427. Following his victory, Le Loi was boating on Luc Thuy (“Green Water”) Lake when the turtle deity Kim Qui suddenly rose to the surface and seized the sword in his mouth and promptly vanished back into the murky depths. The emperor bemoaned the loss of this precious sword, but was eventually persuaded that now that his kingdom was again free, the sword’s rightful owners had reclaimed it. The emperor then proclaimed that Luc Thuy Lake be renamed Ho Hoan Kiem Lake, which means “Lake of the Returned Sword.”
Hoan Kiem Lake is located just west of the Song Hong River (“Red River”) in an urban setting near Hanoi’s Old Quarter and about a mile southeast of Truc Bach Lake, where John McCain landed after being shot down by a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft missile in 1967. In the middle of Hoan Kiem Lake, there is a small island with a structure known as The Tortoise Tower that commemorates the Kim Qui legend.
In scientific terms, Kim Qui is a Yangtze giant soft-shell turtle, which is formally known as Rafetus swinhoei. Weighing in at around 400 pounds, it may be the largest fresh water turtle in the world. It is easily identified by its pig-like snout and nostrils.
Aside from the single specimen known to live in Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi and presumed by many to be the legendary Kim Qui, there only four other known surviving members of the species. These are located at zoos in China, and several are estimated to be between 80 and 100 years old. Other individuals have recently been observed in the wild, but the species has been seriously depleted by pollution, human encroachment into its habitat, especially the damming of rivers and the mining of sand, and also from hunting for food or the supposed medical properties of its shell and bones. This has prompted the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources in Switzerland to list Rafetus swinhoei as “critically endangered.”