Ignorance no excuse for eating turtle eggs

LETTER TO THE EDITOR                                                                                              18 NOVEMBER 2015

Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) finds the response from the Rural and Development Minister on the serving of turtle eggs at a function in a restaurant in Sabah baffling.

If the plate of turtle eggs had not been included in the list of menu  would it be served to the diners seated with the Minister  or is it a complimentary dish from  the restaurant?
 
Why would the dish make it to the dinner table if indeed no one is interested in consumption of  the turtle eggs? Is the turtle egg delicacy  placed there as an exhibit  or as an appetiser to whet the appetite of those present for  the dinner?  It is most strange that a dish is ordered without anyone tucking into the eggs.   
 
This is not the first time  an incident of this nature took place.   SAM noted that as far back as   March 2009  law enforcers from both Bukit Aman and Sarawak police were caught with their pants down serving  an illegal delicacy during one of their official dinner functions.  These are not members of the public but senior police officers who are entrusted with safeguarding the law of a country.  An inconceivable  act coming from  the very institution that is tasked to protect and uphold the law.  Despite reports that this was a terrible practice, no one was brought to book.  
 
What hope do these turtles have of multiplying their numbers if man continues to gobble up  their eggs?  Exploited for decades turtle populations have reached critical levels, and continued  ‘eggs ploitation’  will certainly lead to their demise.  The sight of turtles swimming to our shores does not mean that all is well and that it is alright to eat their eggs.
 
It takes 20 to 50 years for an adult turtle to  mature before they can reproduce.  When they die and if all their eggs are consumed, the entire population will be gone.  They are also faced with a number of extinction threats. They are  hunted for their meat and shell, killed through pollution and illegal trapping by foreign fishing vessels,  drowned in fishing nets,  destruction of  nesting sites  because of shoreline development, all leading to low survival rate. And like the control on ivory trade , the consumption of turtle eggs should also  be banned.  
 
Its ironic that while it is against the Fisheries Act to kill turtles as they are endangered, it is perfectly legal to take their eggs.  Currently state laws governing sea turtles are fragmented, not uniform and state laws do not impose a total ban on the sale and consumption of turtle eggs.  Even these laws have poor and undeveloped provisions pertaining to the protection of turtle habitats. Besides states do not  place turtle protection and conservation as a priority.  
 
As such there must be uniformity of state laws which are  often  met with resistance and lukewarm response from state governments.  Laws are certainly needed as existing state laws are inadequate in turtle conservation quest.
 
SAM calls on the Government to impose an outright ban on the sale and consumption of turtle eggs through adequate punishment, the imposition of fine and imprisonment for selling, and fine and jail sentence for those buying and consuming them. 
 
Malaysia needs to  compromise on its policy in saving turtles from extinction by not allowing traders to sell turtle eggs which will only encourage neighbouring countries to go on a hunting spree for turtle eggs to be sold in Malaysia.  At the same time we are also encouraging turtle eggs from other countries to flood our market thus defeating our effort to save turtles.  
 
The government should  put a stop to this blatant flouting  of the    conservation policy of our endangered species by all means. The law against possession, harvesting and consumption of protected wildlife such as turtles and their eggs must be observed by everyone and Ministers and policy makers have no excuse to dismiss the law by claiming ignorance. 
 
S M Mohamed Idris
President
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