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Vietnam lake cleanup aims to save turtle

Specialists fear pollution is killing the rare giant turtle in Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake that is considered sacred. Specialists fear pollution is killing the rare giant turtle in Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem Lake that is considered sacred. (Associated Press)
Associated Press / March 5, 2011

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HANOI — Hundreds of people are working around the clock to clean up a lake in the heart of Vietnam’s capital in hopes of saving a rare, ailing giant turtle that is considered a sacred symbol of Hanoi.

Some specialists fear pollution at Hoan Kiem Lake is killing the giant freshwater turtle, which has a soft shell the size of a desk. It is one of the most-endangered species, with only four known to be alive worldwide.

Teams of people are cleaning debris, pumping fresh water into the lake, and using sandbags to expand a tiny island to serve as a turtle hospital. The rescuers may even try to net the animal for the first time as part of the effort.

The Hoan Kiem turtle is rooted in Vietnamese folklore, and some believe the animal that lives in the lake today is the same mythical creature that helped a Vietnamese king fend off the Chinese nearly six centuries ago.

It has recently surfaced much more frequently, alarming the public with visible open wounds on its head, legs, and shell.

It’s the first time anyone has tried to capture the turtle, and Vietnamese have flocked to the lake in hopes of spotting it .