Eternal shell: stuffed sacred turtle in Hanoi – Environment

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A sacred giant tortoise that died in the legendary Hoan Kiem Lake of Hanoi received a new lease of life from the city authorities who embalmed the beloved creature for posterity and sightseeing.

The Hanoiani were shocked by the death of the softshell tortoise Swinhoe, in grave danger of extinction, in 2016, believing that its disappearance was a sign of threatening future times.

It is believed that the reptile is the last of a long line of large turtles in the central lake of Hoan Kiem, revered as a symbol of the struggle for the independence of Vietnam according to the mythical tradition handed down for generations.

Nicknamed "Cu Rua" which means "great turtle grandmother", it was thought that he was between 80 and 100 years old when he died.

Visitors welcomed the turtle's resurrection in the famous Ngoc Son temple on Hoan Kiem Lake, where the 170 kilogram creature was exhibited last week, sitting on a red carpet in a glass case with a finely carved wooden frame.

"It is nice to see him here, everyone can admire him now, a symbol of Hanoi," Tran Trani friend Thi Anh said.

The huge creature sits next to another one that was similarly embalmed and encased in glass in 1968.

They are not the only heroes preserved in Vietnam: the country's revolutionary leader, Ho Chi Minh, is exposed in an expanse of concrete and grass in Ba Dinh square in the French quarter of the city.

Read also: Entrust the fate of the turtles to the millennials

And in a unique way of cashing the habit, a restaurant owner who served the famous Hanoi pork noodles to the late chef Anthony Bourdain and former President of the United States Barack Obama kept the table for lunch in a glass box.

The tortoises exhibited in Hoan Kiem Lake – which in Vietnamese means "Lake of the restored sword" – are considered the protectors of an ancient sword in the green-tinged waters.

According to popular legend, the former emperor Le Loi received the weapon in the fifteenth century from the god of the golden turtles of the lake, which he used to fight the Chinese invaders before returning it to Hoan Kiem.

It is believed that there are only four surviving Swinhoe turtles left in the world – two in a Chinese zoo and two in Vietnam, according to the Asian turtle program.

Superstition is omnipresent in Vietnam and any sighting of giant tortoises is considered to be a good omen.

The same is true today for other species of turtles that live in the lake.

"I just saw some smaller turtles come to the surface of the lake … it seems good luck to see them, don't you think?" said visitor Nguyen Tri Ton, laughing.

"It is good that they have embalmed Mr Turtles here to keep them alive for all the people of Vietnam," he added.

Local officials initially tried to suppress the news of Cu Rua's death in 2016, fearing that it would be considered a misfortune ahead of a party congress to choose the best leaders in the country.

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