KOTA KINABALU - A probe will be launched over photos of a federal minister being served what appears to be turtle eggs in Sandakan.
The photographs show Rural and Regional Development Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob having dinner at a seafood restaurant together with Beluran Umno chief Datuk James Ratib.
A plate of what appears to be at least two-dozen turtle eggs is seen on the table before them.
Turtles are protected under the under Sabah Wildlife Enactment 1997.
It is considered an offence to harvest, sell or consume turtle eggs in the state and those convicted are liable to a fine of RM50,000 or to five years' imprisonment or both.
The photographs, which have gone viral on social media, have sparked an outcry among conservationists here.
State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun said an investigation was initiated after the photographs surfaced.
"The Sabah Wildlife Department is probing this matter," he said on Wednesday.
When contacted, James denied that turtle eggs were served during the dinner.
On what type of eggs are seen in the photos, James said, "I don't know."
A group of NGOs and research organisations said they were shocked upon discovering the photographs.
"What message are we conveying to the world when our own government officials consume products of endangered species," said the group.
They said the Sabah Wildlife Department must take action to send out a strong message that protected species were not for sale or consumption.