Thursday, 12 November 2015

Letter to the Editor: Get Serious Against Turtle Egg Consumption



At least once a year, volunteers from the Malaysian Nature Society assist local turtle conservation and management centres by cleaning up the premises, sprucing up turtle quarantine ponds and hatcheries, carrying out beach clean-ups and releasing turtle hatchlings. Our volunteers include children as young as two, in the hope that our efforts will go a little way towards ensuring the continued survival of these amazing and gentle marine animals. A lot of resources have gone into educating the local communities on the need to protect turtle populations, and discouraging littering, poaching and turtle egg consumption.

And this is what makes the incident in which Rural and Regional Development Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob and Beluran UMNO Division Chief Datuk James Ratib were photographed dining at a restaurant in which large quantities of turtle eggs were served all the more disheartening and disappointing. More dispiriting still are the excuses made expressing ignorance, firstly of what type of eggs were on the table, next, of the menu and the decision to serve turtle eggs, and then, of the law prohibiting the sale and consumption of turtle eggs in the state of Sabah. At no point did the Minister express regret or outrage that the turtle eggs were served, or support for conservation laws protecting endangered species such as turtles. The Minister’s dismissive responses and claim of ignorance of the law further reflect poorly on the mindset of those in a decision-making capacity in relation to issues of environmental and wildlife conservation and animal protection.

As a Minister with such an important portfolio, his plea of ignorance – that he was not aware of what eggs they were, that he did not know turtle eggs would be served, and that he was not aware it was illegal to sell and consume turtle eggs – is unacceptable. Not only is it clear from the photographic evidence that the Minister did not object to the fact that turtle eggs were served and consumed, it is also a matter of concern that he repeatedly attempted to deflect blame, first to the organisers of the event, then to the restaurateur, and most recently to unknown and unnamed “outsiders” without acknowledging that a wildlife crime had been committed, that he had been a party to it whether intentionally or otherwise, and that he has a duty to cooperate with the authorities and wildlife NGOs to ensure that action is taken against those responsible for the offence. Whether or not the Minister had himself consumed the turtle eggs due to his claim of high cholesterol levels is less important than the fact that he had witnessed a wildlife offence and did not feel that it was his responsibility to address or stop it. Malaysian citizens do not need to know if a Minister has high cholesterol levels. We do, however, need to know that when an elected representative witnesses a crime, he or she is willing to call out the guilty parties, stop the crime, prevent a reoccurrence and do whatever it is within his or her power to ensure laws are enforced expeditiously and fairly.

Malaysia already has a reputation, internationally, as a hub for wildlife trafficking, trade and exploitation. Marine pollution, coastal development and erosion, destructive fishing methods, deliberate poaching and turtle egg consumption have all contributed to a drastic decline in turtle populations. According to WWF Malaysia, leatherback turtle populations have declined by more than 99% and Olive Ridley turtles by more than 95%, while Hawksbill and Green turtle populations have decreased since the 1970s and only recently appeared to have stabilised in certain states thanks to concerted conservation, education, awareness and enforcement efforts. Even with the best of intervention measures, turtle survival rates remain low, with only an estimated one in a thousand hatchlings surviving to maturity and breeding age.

I believe I speak for all concerned citizens when I urge that the state wildlife authorities investigate this matter thoroughly, that all elected representatives take a firm stance against the exploitation of and trade in wildlife and endangered species, including but not limited to the consumption of turtle eggs, and that the sale and consumption of turtle eggs be removed from state jurisdiction and be made a Federal offence.

The matter at hand is not a political one. The offence is not less heinous or more easily condoned had it been associated with someone linked with another political party, or individuals with no political affiliations at all. The trade in and exploitation of endangered species and the destruction of Malaysia’s natural heritage should be the concern of all rational and responsible human beings as denizens of the planet, and not merely the concern of ‘environmental organisations’ and ‘conservation groups’.


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