Like many turtle species, Swinhoe’s softshell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) has for centuries held special cultural significance in Vietnam. For the people of the country, the Hoan Kiem turtle, as it is known locally, is a symbol of Vietnam’s independence and prosperity.
According to the legend passed from one generation to the next, this giant golden turtle emerged from the Hoan Kiem Lake to reclaim a magic sword used by the Le Loi King to defeat Chinese Ming forces in the 15th century. The lake was renamed Hoan Kiem Lake or Lake of the Returned Sword based on this legend.
But despite the Rafetus swinhoei being revered, it is also extremely threatened. For two decades it has been listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ on the Red List maintained by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Since 2013, the Rafetus swinhoei has also been listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
Hoang Bich Thuy, Nguyen Dinh Thang