Monday, 3 June 2013

Turtle conservationist shot dead 'by poachers' on Costa Rica beach

Late in April a dedicated young Costa Rican conservationist, Jairo Mora Sandoval, logged on to his Facebook page, with its pictures of cavorting baby sea turtles and wild beaches, and typed out an urgent plea. "Can you send messages to the police to come to the Moin beach," he asked his friends, stressing that the officers must be armed and not afraid, "60 turtles are lost – there wasn't even a nest left. We need help and soon."

In a comment beneath the post, Mr Mora Sandoval, who was working to protect the endangered leatherback turtles on his country's Caribbean coast, explained that the beach was being targeted by "hueveros" (egg thieves). Five people liked the message and 135 shared it. But the response was insufficient.

The 26-year-old's naked body was found on the same beach shortly before 7am on Friday. His hands had been tied behind his back and he had been shot in the head after being kidnapped by a masked gang. Four of his female colleagues, all foreign volunteers, were also bundled into a car as they patrolled the beach and have given evidence to the police.

The murder has shed light on the criminal trade linked to the largest of living turtles. At around the same time last year, a group of six men armed with AK-47 assault rifles and 9mm handguns forced their way into a nursery on the same beach designed to protect young leatherbacks. Volunteers, many of them foreigners, were bound and gagged as the gang raided the hatchery for 1,520 eggs from the 19 protected nests.

In the Costa Rica newspaper La Nacion on 28 April, a few days after his Facebook warning, the young conservationist had written that delinquents were stamping out the sea turtle, and that environmentalists were being threatened by a mafia that was looting the nests for eggs, which were then sold to drug traffickers.

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