Source: The State
Rare Vietnamese turtle in close call with soup pot
SON TAY, Vietnam -- A rare Vietnamese turtle, one of just four believed left in the world, was swept away by a flood, taken hostage by an enterprising fisherman and nearly ended up in a soup pot.
Instead, the 150-pound animal returned to its lake Wednesday and conservationists celebrated their deal with the fisherman - the turtle's freedom in exchange for about $200 and two new fishing nets.
Douglas Hendrie and other conservationists had been trying to find the turtle for two weeks after floods washed the animal out of Dong Mo Lake near Hanoi.
Conservationists and forest rangers release a rare turtle, one of the rafetus swinhoei species, back to a lake, its natural habitat just outside Hanoi, Vietnam, on Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2008. The fate of one of the world's rarest turtles _ one closely tied to Vietnamese legend _ hung in the balance for several hours Wednesday. Conservationists had been trying to track the 150-pound creature down for two weeks, ever since he was swept away from his natural habitat during heavy floods.
"Thank god it's over," said Hendrie, director of the Asian Turtle Program at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo who also works with the conservation group, Education for Nature Vietnam. "We're happy that the turtle is back in the lake."
According to legend, a magic turtle snatched a sword from the Vietnamese King Le Loi as he boated on the lake and returned it to the gods who had lent it to the king to help him defeat Chinese invaders. The lake has since been called Ho Hoan Kiem, or the Lake of the Returned Sword.
Fisherman Nguyen Van Toan found the turtle early Wednesday and demanded $1,400 in exchange for its release, arguing that a Hanoi restaurant owner had offered him 30 million Vietnamese dong ($4,800) for the animal.
Toan argued with authorities and conservationists for hours, occasionally picking up a stick to threaten the crowd of about 100 onlookers that gathered in his yard to watch the drama. He finally agreed to accept cash and new nets to replace the ones he ruined capturing the turtle.
"It's a small reward for people who realized that it's important to protect one of the most endangered species in the world," said Nguyen Thi Van Anh, a colleague of Hendrie's from Education for Nature.
Toan said he was satisfied with the outcome.