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Beloved Giant Turtle Dies, Leaving Only Three Alive on Earth

The recent death of Cu Rua pushes the Yangtze giant soft-shell turtle to the brink of extinction

Cu Rua photographed in 2011 during a health check (STR/epa/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Last week, a Yangtze giant soft-shell turtle named Cu Rua died, leaving just three members of her species alive on the planet, writes John R. Platt for Scientific American

The giant turtle lived in Hanoi's central lake in Vietnam and was one of the last surviving members of its species. Habitat loss, pollution and over-harvesting of the giant turtles drove the species to this grim status, Rick Hudson writes for Turtle Survival Alliance's blog. The remaining individuals include a male-female pair in China an another turtle of unknown gender outside of Hanoi. 

"It would be difficult to overstate Cu Rua’s spiritual and cultural significance in this deeply superstitious and Confucian country, where the news of the turtle’s demise prompted an outpouring of sadness and hand-wringing," writes Mike Ives for The New York Times.

Cu Rua was regarded as the earthly incarnation of one of the four animals that many Vietnamese call sacred. Legend holds that Le Loi, Vietnamese general and emperor, used a magic sword that belonged to the Dragon King to fight the Chinese.

After wining the country's independence, he returned the sword to the Dragon King by giving it to a giant turtle in the lake that became known as Hoan Kiem, the Lake of the Returned Sword, writes Nga Pham for BBC News

Cu Rua represents that ancient, mythological turtle and her appearances were thought to be auspicious signs. But the coincidence of her death with congress' meeting to choose Vietnam's next leaders brought concern.

Now, the only chance for the species survival is the remaining confirmed female, who lives in China. Previous efforts at breeding have failed so far, perhaps from stress on the female or infertility of the aged male, reports Kaitlin Solimine for National Geographic

The Yangtze giant turtles aren't the only animal whose numbers are sadly dwindling. Only three members remain of a Northern White Rhino subspecies, after the death of a female in a San Diego Zoo last fall. The loss of these charismatic, large animals drives home the danger that faces many creatures around the world.

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