A Yangtze giant softshell turtle, considered one of the world’s rarest reptiles, recently died in Vietnam, leaving its species on the brink of extinction.
The turtle, which was the last known female of its kind, was found floating at Dong Mo Lake in Hanoi on Sunday by a member of a turtle protection nonprofit, according to Phung Huy Vinh, head of the economic department of Son Tay Town.
“Its cause of death has yet to be confirmed,” Vinh told VN Express.
The rare reptile, which was first found in the lake in 2020, was reportedly over 5 feet long and weighed 205 pounds.
“It is the same individual that we’ve been monitoring in recent years. It’s a real blow,” Tim McCormack, director of the Asian Turtle Program for Indo-Myanmar Conservation, told TIME. “It was a large female that obviously has great reproductive capacity. She could have potentially laid a hundred eggs or more a year.”
There are now only two known Yangtzes, both of which are male: one in China’s Suzhou Zoo and another in Hanoi’s Xuân Khanh Lake.
The reptiles, also known as Hoàn Kiếm turtles, have been disappearing due to decades of illegal turtle hunting and the rising levels of pollution.
“I am still in just such disbelief that yesterday, we literally witnessed the loss of one of the planet’s true gigantic species, the Yangtze giant softshell turtle,” biologist Forrest Galante said on Facebook. “It’s just devastating. Humans must learn from this and try to do better as docents of our planet.”
Researchers from Vietnam and China unsuccessfully attempted to artificially inseminate a female Yangtze in the past, with the surviving turtle dying in 2019 while under general anesthetic.
However, researchers are remaining hopeful in their search of another Yangtze in Dong Mo.
In Vietnam, the Hoàn Kiếm turtle holds a mythical status due to a legend that is similar to that of England’s King Arthur.
The creature is believed to have gifted a sword to emperor Lê Lợi, which allowed him to drive away occupying Chinese forces. According to the legend, the turtle then reappeared in a Hanoi lake and retrieved the weapon after the enemies were defeated.
The reptile is even considered sacred by many and worshiped by some. When one of its species died in 2016, its remains were reportedly preserved and put on display in the Ngoc Son temple in Hanoi.