Group offers reward for info leading to conviction of Sabah turtle egg diners

Turtle eggs were served during a Chinese New Year reunion dinner, believed to be in Beluran. — Picture via social media
Turtle eggs were served during a Chinese New Year reunion dinner, believed to be in Beluran. — Picture via social media

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KOTA KINABALU, Feb 19 ― A non-governmental organisation for the conservation of turtles here has put up a reward of RM10,000 for information that will lead to the arrest and conviction of the people behind a controversial turtle egg dinner recently.

Friends Of Sea Turtles Education and Research (FOSTER) president Alexander Yee said that he hoped a monetary incentive can help motivate the public to assist the Sabah Wildlife Department in their investigation to bring those responsible to court.

“Conservation efforts and enforcement activities must go in tandem, otherwise conservation efforts will be in vain.

“Towards this end, in my continual effort to render support to our Sabah Wildlife Department, I will make a personal pledge a RM10,000 reward in exchange for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the persons responsible for this incident,” said Yee.

On Sunday, an alleged relative of a former Sabah assemblyman posted photos of an interracial Chinese New Year dinner that featured handfuls of turtle eggs. The post attracted criticism, not least due to the fact that consumption of turtle eggs is illegal in Sabah.

The post was since taken down but screenshots of photos of the dinner, along with the obscured name of the person who posted them, was spread on social media.

The Sabah Wildlife Department has since started an investigation into the case but was rumoured to have faced difficulties as it involved the family of a politician, as well as obtaining the proof needed to convict such a case.

In 2015, Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri was photographed in a dinner held by Umno Beluran division chief Datuk James Ratib where turtle eggs was served. The then Beluran District Officer Suhaili Riman was also present.

Ismail Sabri denied eating the eggs and the restaurant where the dinner was held was fined and ordered to shut temporarily, but no one was charged for personal consumption.

However, Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Jafry Arifin has pledged that the government will investigate this recent case “without fear or favour” and  “leave no stone unturned”

In Sabah, turtles are a protected species under the state’s Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997 legislation, and it is an offence to possess the animals or their products (shell, meat and eggs).

Offenders can be fined RM50,000 or jailed for five years, or both, upon conviction.

Conservationists like Yee have long been trying to put a stop to the perennial problem of consumption, sale and smuggling of turtle eggs, particularly in Sabah’s east coast where turtle egg landings are found.

FOSTER has been working with the wildlife department on sea turtles conservation on Libaran island, which has so far seen the successful release of 40,000 baby sea turtles since 2013.

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