Nirmal Shah, July 23 2009.

Two men have been arrested for possession of turtle meat and spearguns. The taking, selling or buying of turtles is illegal under the  Wild Animals and Birds Protection Act. Offences under this law carry a maximum fine of SR500,000.00 (about 36,000.00 USD) or a maximum term of two years imprisonment. Spearguns have been banned in Seychelles since the 70’s under Fisheries legislation and the Penal Code.

The two men are aged 30 and 42 and one is apparently a known poacher whom the police say they have been after for more than a decade. The police seized about 8 kilos of turtle meat and about 13 kilos of fish that had been illegally taken using spearguns. The men are now out on bail.

Seychelles is an important breeding ground for Green and Hawksbill turtles. Cousin island Special Reserve, managed by Nature Seychelles, is the single most important site for nesting Hawksbills in the WIO (Western Indian Ocean) region. The nesting turtle population there has more than tripled since the island was made into a Reserve.

It is hoped that all procedures have been followed in this case and that it will be prosecuted properly. In a landmark case in 2004, police arrested 8 men in the act of unloading 38 gunny bags full of what was then described as salted booby (a sea bird known as fou in Creol) and turtle meat on Mahe.  Six of the men were convicted to two years imprisonment. Five of them appealed their case and a year later they were acquitted by the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal ruling had little to do with whether the men were guilty or not of poaching or whether turtle protection laws should be respected.  In fact, it had to do with legal procedures which had not been properly followed.

In the past, it has not been easy to get arrests and convictions in cases of poaching. A long running tradition of eating turtle meat, open access to marine resources, and complicated kinship patterns in such a small island state where “everyone is related to everyone else” makes for poor enforcement and compliance. Nevertheless, in recent years both the police and the judiciary have been more willing to take on cases of poaching of threatened species. This is a testimony to improved environmental education and awareness, better governance and also to greater understanding that poaching is an environmental crime, related to other types of criminal activity.

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