One of the Last 4 Giant Turtles Dies – Now Scientists Are Seeking Ways to Keep the Species

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The Yangtze giant softshell turtle is sadly closer to extinction with the death of Cu Rua, the famous turtle from Vietnam.

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Concerns for Cu Rua’s health prompted vets to capture him for medical treatment in April 2011.

In the Hoan Kiem Lake in Vietnam, you can find a 360-pound turtle that the Vietnamese call Cu Rua or Great Grandfather Turtle. These freshwater turtles can grow up to 4 feet long.

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A model of Cu Rua was put in the centre of Hanoi for celebrations for the city’s 1,000-year anniversary in 2010

Just this past January, Cu Rua died. That leaves only three of the largest freshwater turtle species on Earth.

Cu Rua was the last hope

Cu Rua, pronounced /koo zu-ah/ was estimated to be over 100 years old. The turtle was well-known in the city of Hanoi.

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Cu Rua was not only beloved by Hanoi residents but by Vietnamese all over the country

In Vietnam, any sighting of the Cu Rua was considered good luck. The city of Hanoi is mourning its death. Turtle researcher and founder of Chelonian Research Institute, Peter Pritchard says the loss of this turtle cannot be quantified.

For two decades, between 1970 and 1990, hunting resulted in huge losses in the turtle population. With urban development came more damage to their habitat. The species is down to three. A male and female turtle who live in the Changsa Zoo have not mated, so the future of the species is uncertain.

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Cu Rua had lived in the lake since the 19th century

There is only one wild turtle known, and it lives in the Dong Mo river. Scientists have plans to bring him to China to mate with the female in captivity if the turtle is a male.

Rebuilding the population

Pritchard says it is difficult to rebuild a whole turtle population with only three animals, but it is not completely impossible.

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A small temple sits by Hoan Kiem lake where Cu Rua lived

When the giant softshell turtles lay eggs, they lay several dozen at a time. With careful supervision, a majority of those eggs could produce viable adult turtles.

This kind of animal husbandry has been done before. In the Galapagos Islands, the giant tortoise population was declining in the seventies. With the program in place, they have produced 2,000 offspring and the species is now thriving.

If the mating does not work, the last hope for conservationists is that there may be wild tortoises hiding in the wild.

In Vietnam, they want to move the Dong Mo turtle to the Hoan Kiem river.

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Cu Rua was given a health check in 2011

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Hundreds of anxious and curious bystanders watched when Cu Rua was captured for his health check in 2011

Vietnamese folklore tells of a heroic turtle who returned a lost sword to an emperor. Hoan Kiem translates to “Lake of the Restored Sword.” The legend is commemorated in a Turtle Tower shrine at the lake, which was placed back in the 1880s.

There are plans to take Cu Rua’s remains and place them on display near the lake.

For the sake of the breeding program, conservationists will hope that the Dong Mo turtle remains in good health ideal for mating.

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