A rapid-fire investigation, arrest, and strong conviction against a wildlife trafficker in Sabah has dampened the online sales of sea turtle eggs in the Malaysian state.
A local man caught with 20 sea turtle eggs after offering them for sale online was jailed for a year and fined MYR200,000 (almost $47,000 USD) by a court in the State. The fine was just 20% less than the maximum fine allowed by Sabah’s law for illegal possession of the fully protected animal.
The man was caught on June 26th and convicted just over a week later on July 3rd after he pleaded guilty to the offense. Media reports indicate that he was unable to pay the fine and will likely spend an additional two years in jail as a result.
Reports of sea turtle egg sales on social media platforms and chat groups in Sabah surfaced in local media just a few days before the arrest was made. At the time, Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said that the agency was trying to trace the sellers and take action.
Several sellers were observed offering small numbers of turtle eggs online at around MYR4–5 each (under $1.20 USD each), pointing to the continuing demand for sea turtle eggs which is considered a so-called “traditional delicacy” despite their sale being prohibited there.
“This case really illustrates the impact of an alert public that reports wildlife crime and a fast response from enforcement agencies. Kudos to the Sabah Wildlife Department,” said Chin Suk Teng, Programme Officer for TRAFFIC in Southeast Asia in a statement.
“We urge them to continue monitoring online sites for the sale of turtle eggs and other wildlife. We also hope to see them pursue prosecution against offenders as they did this time,” continued Chin.
In neighbouring Sarawak, authorities also recently secured convictions against three people for illegal possession of sea turtle eggs: an Indonesian national was sentenced to three months in jail for possession of 70 turtle eggs, a local man caught with 214 turtle eggs was fined MYR5,000 (USD $1,250), while another local man was fined MYR10,000 (USD $2,347 ) for possession of 428 turtle eggs. For any wildlife related offence, the maximum penalty by law in Sarawak is MYR25,000 (USD $6,250) and two years imprisonment.
Both Green and Hawksbill Turtles come to shore throughout the year in Sabah to lay their eggs. Peak season for the Green Turtles is between July and October, and for the Hawksbills, between February and April.
These periods also see massive seizures of smuggled turtle eggs in Malaysia and elsewhere in the region. Most recently, on July 4th, Marine Police seized some 4,000 turtle eggs being smuggled into Sabah’s eastern Sandakan area from the Philippines.
A study by WWF-Malaysia and the Sabah Wildlife Department found that between 1999 and 2017 at least 129 seizure incidents involving marine turtle eggs were recorded in the State, in which 238,396 eggs were seized. The highest seizure per-year occurred in 2016 with 43,826 eggs seized.
From 2018 until the most recent cases, TRAFFIC estimates that enforcement agencies in Sabah have seized at least 30,504 more smuggled turtle eggs.
According to Sabah Wildlife Department statistics there have been 88 arrests linked to turtle eggs smuggling over the past decade, with 21 cases brought to court as of 2018, resulting in fines totaling MYR182,500.
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