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Sacred turtle sets off massive rescue operation

Hoang Dinh Nam / AFP - Getty Images

A giant turtle which is considered a sacred symbol of Vietnam surfaces at Hoan Kiem lake in the heart of Hanoi on March 7. A rescue operation is being carried out by Hanoi municipal authorities to save the endangered turtle whose life is threatened by, among other things, the polluted 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.

Luong Thai Linh / EPA

Rescuers try to capture the giant turtle for medical treatment at Hoan Kiem lake on March 8.

Tran Van Minh / AP

On-lookers pull a net to try to catch the turtle on March 8.

Luong Thai Linh / EPA

Hundreds of residents and tourists gather around Hoan Kiem lake as they watch rescuers trying to capture a rare turtle for medical treatment on March 8.

Luong Thai Linh / EPA

Rescuers try to capture a giant turtle for medical treatment on March 8. Residents believe the giant turtle brings luck because it is said that a giant turtle lent King Le Loi a magical sword, with which he was able to defeat the Chinese invaders in 1427.

AP reports: Many Vietnamese believe the turtle is the same one described in the legend of King Le Loi, who is said to have defeated Chinese invaders with a magic sword given to him by the gods. After the victory, the king was said to be boating on the lake when a giant golden turtle rose to the surface and snatched the sword in its mouth before plunging deep into the water to return it to its divine owners.

Experts, however, say the Hoan Kiem turtle is more likely 80 to 100 years old. Only three others of its kind are known to be alive: one in another lake in Vietnam and two in a Chinese zoo.

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