At a dirty ‘mini-zoo’ travellers throw coins at turtles for luck

Plastic wrappers and empty cans litter the dirty tank in which two turtles live.

KOTA KINABALU: Living in filthy conditions, a captured crocodile and several turtles have become an attraction at a restaurant on the Kimanis-Keningau road, about 65km from here.

They are not on the menu, but have become the focus of superstitious travellers wishing for luck on their journey.

Many visitors appear to have stopped by, judging by the number of coins as well as RM1 notes seen at the bottom of the tank where the turtles share the small space.

While FMT was there, a woman was seen aiming a coin at the back of a turtle, about a metre down.

She shrieked as the coin missed its target and quickly produced another and threw it intently, this time hitting one of the turtles.

“It’s for superstition’s sake, about asking for a safe journey. I only did it because it seems like a tradition of sort for people who stop by here,” she said.

The resident crocodile swims among trash thrown into its enclosure.

However, some visitors are unhappy with the condition of the enclosures, and about the animals being forced to live in them.

In one section, at least two turtles live in blackened water, sharing the space with pieces of plastic and empty cans that were thrown into the tank.

The crocodile’s enclosure is no better. Empty boxes of drinks, and plastic wrappings can be seen floating in the greenish water.

Shop owners nearby say the “mini-zoo” had been in operation for at least 18 months.

“We sympathise with the animals. It would be good if the relevant authorities come and rescue them,” said one shop owner.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga told FMT that the owner has only a licence to keep the animals, not for displaying them to the public.

“The licence is only for keeping the animals and enjoying them privately, not to be exhibited. If the owner loves the animals, he should have provided them with comfortable dwellings. Perhaps he doesn’t love them and harbours other intentions. That is why the animals were not taken care of as they are supposed to be,” he said.

One of the turtles has several coins thrown on its back by travellers wishing for a safe journey.

Tuuga said the department will ask the owner to build new or improve the enclosures according to acceptable standards if the owner is still interested in keeping the animals. Otherwise the department will have to ask the owner to close the place and surrender the animals.

Under Sabah’s wildlife enactment, crocodiles are protected species. Turtles are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The animals may be kept as pets with the appropriate licence. However many owners were found to have abused their licences by exhibiting the animals for profit while neglecting the animals’ living conditions and health.

Brighter days may be ahead for these animals now that the Wildlife Department is taking up the matter.