Vietnamese Giant Softshell Turtle, Only One of Four Left on Earth, Dies in Lake

January 20, 2016 Updated: February 3, 2016

A giant softshell turtle, described as Vietnam’s “sacred” turtle, was found dead in the country’s Hoan Kiem Lake on Jan. 19, according to media reports.

“It is almost impossible to put into words the significance of this loss,” Peter Pritchard, a turtle researcher who is also founder of the Florida-based Chelonian Research Institute, told National Geographic in a report on Feb. 2.

The BBC reported that there are only three giant Yangtze softshell turtles left in the world now. Two are in a zoo in China, and the other one is in another Vietnamese lake.

The dead specimen weighed more than 400 pounds and could be well over 100 years old.

A giant turtle which is considered a sacred symbol of Vietnam surfaces at Hoan Kiem lake in the heart of Hanoi on March 7, 2011. A rescue operation is being carried out by Hanoi municipal authorities to save the endangered turtle whose life is threatened by, among others, the poluted water of the lake. According to a Vietnamese folklore, the Hoan Kiem Lake turtle helped a Vietnamese king fend off the Chinese agressors nearly six centuries ago. AFP PHOTO/HOANG DINH NAM (Photo credit should read HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images)
A giant turtle, which is considered a sacred symbol of Vietnam, surfaces at Hoan Kiem lake. (HOANG DINH NAM/AFP/Getty Images)

The turtle was “possibly the rarest species on the planet and definitely the rarest turtle species… It’s a great blow,” that it had died, Tim McCormack with the Asian Turtle Program, told the AFP news agency.

“It was clearly an ancient animal, I would say easily over 100 years old, and so its death does not come as any real great surprise,” he added.

A number of Vietnamese social media users mourned the death of the turtle, known as “Cu Rua.”

“The turtle was a sacred animal for us Hanoians. Such sadness, such regret,” wrote one person.

Another wrote: “So the Hoan Kiem Lake turtle has died. Maybe it is not a sign of bad luck. Maybe it is a sign of renewal and end of slow backwardness.”

The turtle’s body is now being kept in a temple on a small island in the lake. State media outlets said officials are trying to figure out how to proceed, adding that embalming is being considered.