Photograph by TIM LAMAN, Nat Geo Image Collection
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A green sea turtle swims off the coast of Malaysia, where sea turtle eggs are considered a delicacy.

Photograph by TIM LAMAN, Nat Geo Image Collection

19,000 Sea Turtle Eggs Seized in Anti-Smuggling Operation

In this week’s crime blotter: Filipinos detained on suspicion of smuggling, an ivory kingpin jailed for 20 years, and seized pangolin scales worth $1.8 million.

Police seized 19,000 sea turtle eggs off the coast of Malaysia in the early hours of July 16 in a special operation to hobble a major smuggling syndicate, the Straits Times of Singapore reports.

Malaysian Marine Police in the state of Sabah got a tip-off that smugglers were in the area, so they sent three police vessels to intercept them. When the police vessels came into view of the suspected smugglers’ four wooden boats, a chase ensued.

“The team spotted the pump boats around 1:30 a.m., and a chase ensued,” Sabah Marine Police Chief Assistant Commissioner Mohamad Madun told Malaysia’s New Straits Times. “After a brief pursuit at sea, our men managed to intercept the boats.”

On board they found sacks containing thousands of eggs, worth about $7,400, according to the Straits Times. They detained four Filipinos on suspicion of smuggling and another eight suspected illegal immigrants.

The four Filipinos, if convicted, face up to five years in prison or a $12,300 fine, according to the New Straits Times. For comparison, the average annual income in the Philippines, where the suspected smugglers are from, is $2,700.

In Malaysia, where sea turtle eggs are considered a delicacy, each state makes its own laws about turtle egg collection and consumption. In Sabah, all sea turtles and their eggs are protected, but in many states, the legislation falls short, according to WWF-Malaysia. The organization is calling for a national ban on sea turtle egg sales and consumption.

Related: Stealing Turtle Eggs Got People Shot, But The Thievery Continues

Olive ridley sea turtles are a threatened species, and the Mexican government has made it illegal to harvest their eggs from Pacific beaches. Violators have been prosecuted, jailed, and even shot at. Yet the poaching continues. Why?

Some other wildlife crime busts, convictions, and investigations around the world announced this past week:

IVORY KINGPIN: In what activists call the biggest ivory trafficking case in Kenya’s history, Feisal Mohammed Ali was found guilty of dealing in and illegally possessing ivory. He was sentenced to 20 years in jail and fined nearly $200,000, according to The Star. He and four others were accused of possessing 2.3 tons pounds (2.2 metric tons) of ivory in 2014—representative of 157 elephant deaths. After the ivory seizure, Mohammed fled to Tanzania, where he remained a fugitive until he was arrested by Interpol almost seven months later. The four others were acquitted.

BIRD MAN: Nepalese police nabbed an Indian national and seized 109 tortoises and 162 birds in his possession, the Hindustan Times reports. Law enforcement officials say the tortoises and birds, which included several varieties of parrots, were smuggled into Nepal from India and were on their to China and Vietnam.

TUSK LOOTERS: Customs officers confiscated 33 pounds (15 kilograms) of ivory at Tan Son Nhat International Airport, in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, according to VietnamNet. The illicit ivory, which came from the Czech Republic, was estimated to be worth about $45,000. Vietnam has one of the world’s biggest illegal ivory markets, a new report this week says.

BIRDS OF PREY: Police in Bandar Lampung, in southern Indonesia, foiled an alleged plot to illegally trade 20 black-winged kites, a rare species of eagles, reports. The birds of prey inhabit almost all of sub-Saharan Africa and throughout southern Asia. They have a white head and red eyes surrounded by black patches.

SCALES ON THE SEA: Hong Kong customs officers discovered and seized $1.8 million (HK$14 million) worth of smuggled pangolin scales in cargo that originated in Nigeria, according to a government press release. It was described as the largest seizure of pangolin scales in five year. Considered the most trafficked mammals in the world, tens of thousands of pangolins are believed to be poached annually for their scales and meat, a delicacy in China.

Jani Actman reported the roundup of wildlife crime busts, convictions, and investigations.

This story was produced by National Geographic’s Special Investigations Unit, which focuses on wildlife crime and is made possible by grants from the BAND Foundation and the Woodtiger Fund. Read more stories from the SIU on Wildlife Watch. Send tips, feedback, and story ideas to