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Police to quiz 6 villagers in rare sea turtle case

SIX villagers have been transferred to judicial authorities in south China for allegedly hunting and selling a rare sea turtle illegally.

Last week, a viral video showing a group of people dismembering a giant Dermochelys coriacea, a sea turtle under state protection, caused an uproar among netizens.

The turtle, reportedly weighing more than 200 kilograms, was slaughtered and its meat was sold for 70 yuan (US$10) per kg to local residents in Xuwen County, Guangdong Province, according to a report by the local Zhanjiang Daily. Pictures on microblog Sina Weibo showed bloody scenes of the slaughter, with the turtle tied by a rope on a two-wheeled cart.

But initial investigations showed that the turtle was already dead when it was caught, according to a statement by the county government.

According to the statement, three fishermen caught the turtle when they were fishing in waters off Luodousha Island in Xuwen. They sold the turtle to three local villagers for 4,000 yuan. The villagers dismembered the turtle and sold the meat to other villagers.

The fishermen claimed that the turtle was already dead when it was caught. Investigators found no evidence proving the turtle was alive when it was dismembered, said the statement.

Dermochelys coriacea is a Class B protected animal in China. The species, also called the leatherback sea turtle, has a unique shell unlike other sea turtles. The animal has rarely been spotted in China, according to Bowu, a spinoff magazine of China National Geography. Under the law, illegal purchase, transport and sales of endangered wild animals could result in a jail sentence and fines.

Sea turtles are traditionally regarded as “guardian angels” in coastal areas in Guangdong, said Liang Daichong, a local policeman. “There have been stories of the Dermochelys coriacea turtles saving people.”

Liang said that the turtle is a deep-sea species, and many people do not know it.

Local villagers told Xinhua news agency that sea turtles are “not allowed to be hunted” according to local fishing traditions.

“Any sea turtle caught by mistake is typically released, and some fishermen even burn incense and inscribe their names and the time on the turtle’s shell when they release it just to get blessings,” a local villager said.

Xia Zhongrong, an official with the national nature reserve for sea turtles in Guangdong’s Huizhou City, said that fishermen in Guangdong rarely kill or eat sea turtles, and that any sea turtle caught by mistake is usually released or sent to the reserve.

“Each year, about 50 sea turtles are sent to the reserve,” Xia said. “Sometimes the number has exceeded 100.”

One of the suspects accused of dismembering the turtle said that he “did not know it was a sea turtle,” nor did he realize it was under state protection.

“I have always known sea turtles should be released when they are caught,” said the suspect, surnamed Zheng. “Last year, I spent several hundred yuan buying a sea turtle and released it.”

Liang said the incident in Xuwen is a reflection of “bad eating habits” and “ignorance.”

“The government should improve education about wildlife protection,” Xia said. “The public should remain friendly to wild animals.”


 

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