Probe in Malaysia over protected turtle eggs served at Sabah dinner attended by minister

Malaysian minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob (left, in striped shirt) and Beluran Umno chief James Ratib (in black) with the turtle eggs on the table in front of them.
Malaysian minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob (left, in striped shirt) and Beluran Umno chief James Ratib (in black) with the turtle eggs on the table in front of them. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

KOTA KINABALU - A probe is underway in Sabah into how protected turtle eggs ended up being served at a dinner attended by a Malaysian minister, after a photo of the event was widely circulated on social media sites, sparking an outcry from conservationists.

Sabah Wildlife Department director William Baya said it was investigating the incident, which reportedly saw Rural Development and Regional Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob being served turtle eggs during an Umno event in Sandakan in August, The Star reported on Thursday (Nov 5).

He however declined to comment further when asked if the operator of the seafood restaurant where the dinner was held on Aug 29 had been questioned.

Photographs of the event had showed Ismail Sabri at the restaurant with Beluran Umno chief James Ratib seated next to him. On the table just in front of them was a plate of at least two dozen turtle eggs.

The photograph was first spread on social media on Wednesday, creating a stir among conservationists in Sabah.

A group of NGOs and research organisations had expressed disappointment upon discovering the photos and urged the state Wildlife Department to investigate.

Turtles were deemed a totally protected species under the under Sabah Wildlife Enactment 1997 and harvesting, selling or consuming the creatures or their eggs is an offence.

Offenders are liable to a RM50,000 (S$16,360) fine, five years imprisonment or both if found guilty.

Ismail Sabri, who is not shown eating the eggs in the photo, has clarified that he did not consume them due to health issues.