Turtle Researcher May Have Been Murdered By Drug Traffickers

Baby leatherback 1
A baby leatherback turtle, the kind that Jario Mora Sandoval dedicated his life to.

On May 31, conservationist Jairo Mora Sandoval was found bound, beaten, and shot through the head on the beach he had devoted his career to, according to TicoTimes.

Sandoval spent many hours on Moín Beach on the northern Caribbean coast protecting his precious leatherback turtles from poachers.

He was a volunteer with WIDECAST, which sends people out to patrol beaches where the protected sea turtles nest, to keep poachers from stealing their eggs, which sell for about $1 each.

Those poachers may have been linked to a Costa Rican drug ring, according to New Scientist. Some of Mora Sandoval’s statements in La Nación about the link between the turtles and the drug traffickers seems to have angered them — he was held and threatened at gunpoint just weeks before his death.

The conservationists’ presence on the beaches also aggravated the drug ring, according to New Scientist’s Peter Aldhous

More importantly, Chacón believes that Mora Sandoval and other conservationists were a nuisance to drug traffickers because they drew the authorities’ attention to the deserted beaches used to transport narcotics. In March 2012 an armed gang raided a hatchery in Moín used to incubate eggs taken from the beach to protect them from poachers.

Workers were held at gunpoint and eggs were destroyed. Project officials later learned through local contacts that the incident was intended as a warning to keep off the beaches, Chacón says.

Costa Rica’s Judicial Investigation Police said in a statement that a motive in the killing of Jairo Mora Sandoval has not been determined, according to the Huffington Post.