Rescuers in Hanoi, Vietnam are scrambling to capture and treat an ailing turtle, believing it to be the incarnation of a mythical creature.
The revered soft-shell giant turtle of Hoam Kiem has made some rare appearances at the lake’s surface in recent weeks, allowing glimpses of wounds on the reptile’s skin and gouges in its shell. Scientists fear that the sores can become infected, and have insisted on moving forward with efforts to save it, while also taking steps to clean the highly polluted water.
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On Tuesday, divers and boatmen attempted to coerce the 440-pound creature onto an artificial island where a “turtle hospital” had been assembled. But the turtle — a solitary animal that’s not accustomed to human interaction — had other plans, ripping through the net and retreating into the depths of the lake.
While the turtle is believed to be approximately 100 years old (and could live to be 175), its legend dates back to the 15th century. Locals believe that the reptile is the incarnation of a mythical creature that helped Vietnamese King Le Loi defeat Chinese invaders in 1427 by lending him a magical sword. After the victory, the king was said to be boating on the lake when a giant turtle rose to the surface and snatched the sword to return it to its rightly owners in the water, giving the lake its name, Hoan Kiem — Lake of the Returned Sword.
(More on TIME.com: See TIME’s special: “Saving the World’s Endangered Species.”)
The freshwater giant turtle is also one of the most endangered species on the planet, as one of only four of its kind. Efforts to save the turtle will resume in coming days. (via The New York Times)