The death of a turtle has stirred much sadness and fear of the future in Vietnam—but this was no average turtle. Cu Rua, found dead Tuesday in a Hanoi lake, was a cultural and spiritual icon that represented the nation's independence, the New York Times reports.
The 360-pound creature also happened to die just as the Communist Party congress is meeting to select its senior leaders for the next five years. "People say the turtle’s death is bad luck, and a way for the gods to show that something’s about to happen," says a Buddhist temple caretaker near the lake where Cu Rua lived. Indeed, the BBC notes the party's propaganda department initially instructed the media not to report the sensitive news; the reversal came with instructions to communicate the death without commentary and in a scientific nature.
Many saw Cu Rua as the manifestation of a legendary turtle that reclaimed a magical sword from a 15th-century Vietnamese hero who had fought off Chinese occupiers. Cu Rua was also said to appear during major events in Vietnam's history, like Hanoi's 1,000th anniversary, the BBC reports. "The turtle was a sacred animal for us Hanoians," writes a Facebook user in Vietnam. "Such sadness, such regret." It's also sad for wildlife experts, who say Cu Rua was one of only four known Yangtze giant soft-shell turtles, CNN reports. Interesting side note: While Cu Rua's name means Great-Grandfather Turtle, the creature was found to be female when it received medical treatment in 2011. Its age was unknown, but media reports estimate Cu Rua was around 80 to 100 years old.