A giant soft-shell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei), considered a sacred symbol of Vietnamese independence, is guided into a cage for a health check at Hoan Kiem lake in Hanoi, on April 3, 2011.
Vietnam News Agency/AFP/Getty Images
January 20, 2016 11:43 AM EST

A celebrated giant turtle that the Vietnamese viewed as sacred has died, according to state media. The 440-lb. reptile was thought to be more than 80 years old and was one of only four Yangtze giant softshell turtles still alive. It was found dead in a lake in central Hanoi Tuesday.

Turtle researcher Tim McCormack said the animal was “one of the rarest species on the planet.” He estimated that it was “easily” over a century old.

Vietnamese mourned the death of the turtle on social media sites. The giant reptile is part of a national fable taught to schoolchildren about a turtle that gave a magic sword to Le Loi, a 15th-century fighter who defeated Chinese attackers.

Government officials have not yet decided what to do with the turtle’s body and are considering embalming it, according to state media.


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