Last update 2/24/2011 3:40:55 PM (GMT+7)

The death of the giant turtle in Ngoc Son Temple

VietNamNet Bridge – The turtle in the glass box in Hanoi’s Ngoc Son Temple was one of the four old turtles living in the Hoan Kiem Lake. He died over four decades ago in a chaotic event.

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Prof. Ha Dinh Duc, who has researched the turtle in Hoan Kiem Lake for 20 years, recalled the death of the turtle. He also warned that if the remaining turtle is not treated timely, the last giant turtle of Hoan Kiem Lake may pass away.

The death

Around 10 am of June 2 1967, after being informed that some people gathered on the bank to see the rising turtle, some police officers were sent to the site to disperse the crowd so they would not be targeted by US aircrafts.

Police officers asked these people to break up and used a bamboo stick to drive out the turtle but the turtle kept moving toward the shore. They saw blood on his shell and thought that he might have been injured when US aircrafts bombed Hanoi two days earlier.

Hearing that the giant turtle was wounded, a food company proposed to buy the turtle at the price of VND2.7/kg. When workers were carrying the turtle to a car, they received the decision signed by Hanoi Chair Tran Duy Hung, that asked relevant agencies to try their best to save the legendary turtle.

At the same time, speakers announced that American aircrafts were approaching and asked everybody to hide in trenches. Two police officers stayed to protect the turtle. At that moment, the car of a cultural attaché of the Russian Embassy passed by. Seeing the giant turtle, the diplomat stopped to take pictures.

After that, the turtle was brought to the house at No. 90, Tho Nhuom Street, a historical relic, for treatment.

“The turtle was cured by rare and expensive medicine, including a box of penicillin and eight blocks of ice. At that time, penicillin was more valuable than gold while ice was rare and very expensive,” said Prof. Duc.

Due to serious injuries, the turtle died at 2pm of the same day.

After he died, the city authorities asked relevant agencies to operate the turtle to seek the reason. The turtle was 2.10m long, 1.20m wide, 250kg in weight, with a circular hole on his shell of 5cm in diameter and 6cm deep. The hole went through his lung, causing bleeding and was suggested as the reason for his death.

No bullets were founded inside the turtle’s body. There were five chubs 40cm long and ten stones which were as big as chicken eggs in his stomach. The stones were tools to grind food, according to experts.

Experts defined that his age is over 900 years.

That night, police were instructed to investigate the death of the turtle.

According to investigation, two days ago, a state-owned food company was fishing at Hoan Kiem Lake. This firm hired men to draw up nets. According to workers, when they drew up the net, they founded a big turtle in the net. They could not take the turtle out of the net. As the turtle was too big and heavy, it pulled the boat. A hired worker named Thu, from the northern province of Thai Binh, was afraid to lose the net so he used a crowbar to hit the turtle, making a big hole on his shell.

The man named Thu knew the case and ran away. In the wartime, the case was not investigated further.


Hanoi authorities told relevant agencies to make a specimen of the dead turtle. This mission was assigned to Quyet Thanh Cooperate.

The specimen has been inspected and maintained periodically since then. The maintenance is performed by the Museum of Fauna and the Biology Faculty of the Hanoi University for Natural Sciences.

Vu Ngoc Thanh, who is in charge of this job, said he uses plaster, rubber latex and industrial glue to heal cracks on the shell.

The biggest challenge for preserving the specimen is visitors often put small changes into the glass box containing the turtle, which enable the development of fungus.

According to documents collected by Prof. Ha Dinh Duc, Ho Guom had four ancient turtles in the past. Two of them died a very long time ago. The third is now a specimen in the Ngoc Son Temple and the last is still alive.

The last turtle

Hanoi has set up a steering board to save the last turtle. The public is now interested in the current situation of the ancient turtle because he rises to the surface very often, with many wounds on his shell and neck.

Scientists worried that since the turtle is old and weak and his body is heavy, he might hit sharp objects under the lake bed. These chafes became serious due to the polluted water.

Prof. Duc said that perhaps a red-eared turtle, an exotic species, gnawed his shell.

In the international workshop on February 15, some scientists said that the ancient turtle may be infected with fungus or inflammation of his respiratory system due to pollution.

While Vietnamese scientists supported to fish the turtle out for treatment, foreign experts said that the old turtle may acquire new injuries or even die if he is fished out for treatment with insufficient material facilities and veterinarian expertise. A representative of the Asian Turtle Program (ATP) said that it is necessary to keep an eye on the turtle’s wounds. Taking the turtle out of the lake should be the last solution.

Hanoi plans to kill red-eared turtles in Hoan Kiem Lake in March and fix the solutions to save the remaining turtle on February 25.

It is reported that there are only four of the giant turtles like the one in Hoan Kiem Lake in the world, including one in Hanoi’s Dong Mo Lake, one in Hoan Kiem Lake and two in China.

Until now, the age and the sex of the old turtle are not defined yet. The turtle is facing extinction, and many people question why scientists don’t seek to maintain the species.

For Vietnamese, the turtle in Hoan Kiem Lake is holy because it is linked with the legend of King Le Loi, who returned the magic sword to the turtle deity in Hoan Kiem Lake after defeating foreign invaders.

The specimen of the dead turtle at Ngoc Son Temple:

Ngoc Son Temple

Living turtles with new wounds:

Kien Trung