SINGARAJA ~ Buleleng Police believe they have broken up a large-scale turtle-smuggling operation that had been illegally collecting the protected animals in North Bali and taking them to Denpasar for sale.
Two men have been arrested following discovery of a pick-up truck containing 42 protected green turtles, two of them dead.
Local security men at Tinga-Tinga village saw the turtles in the truck when it stopped there in the early hours of last Sunday and called police.
One of the men arrested is a marine, Kadek Suharjo, originally from Sawan in Buleleng regency, who was recently posted to North Bali. He turned himself in to military police at Benoa on Monday.
The other man was named as Made Winata (44), of Bubunan, Gerokgak, in Buleleng regency.
Police believe the men were part of an organised turtle-smuggling ring supplying foreign collectors and the local market in turtle meat, an important part of some Hindu traditional ceremonies.
The stolen turtles are believed to have come from Pegametan village at Sumberkima, near Gerokgak.
The head of the Denpasar military police office, Marine Colonel Ketut Arya Budana, said if military authorities decided to charge Suharjo, he would appear before a military court. “The Buleleng police investigation and our own are going ahead together,” he said.
Colonel Budana said Suharjo had been reassigned recently under a programme designed to move personnel frequently so they had no time to develop corrupt or criminal associations with civilians or other military personnel.
When arrested he was on a leave pass. Colonel Budana said the man’s local military commander would be asked to explain apparent lack of discipline at the post.
The latest seizure of illegally removed protected turtles has also sparked for North Bali turtles retrieved from smugglers to be returned to their own habitats rather than to the turtle refuge at Serangan Island in Benoa Bay in the south.
Animal activist I Made Jaya Ratha criticised police, saying the lucrative trade in smuggled turtles – a delicacy and sometimes required for important Hindu ceremonies – should receive more priority from law enforcers.