At around 6:00am on Friday, 26-year-old Jairo Mora Sandoval, a young Costa Rican conservationist who monitored and protected turtle nests, was found murdered on Moín Beach, on the northern Caribbean coast. He worked for the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network. [Many thanks to my friend Elrica D’Oyen-Gebert for bringing news of this terrible tragedy to my attention.]
According to the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ), Mora had been badly beaten and shot in the head, and his hands were tied behind his back. The OIJ released conflicting statements saying that Mora’s body was found both next to and inside the Jeep he used to monitor the beach.
Mora had worked as a beach monitor for the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network (WIDECAST) at Moín, said WIDECAST’s Costa Rica Coordinator Didiher Chacón. The program has seen an increase in poachers, Chacón said, and a recent story in a national daily quoted Mora linking the poaching to drug traffickers. “With everything we know about what happened, it seems like it was an act of revenge,” Chacón said. “Jairo didn’t drink. He didn’t smoke. He wasn’t involved in those kinds of things. We think it must have had to do with his work.” On April 23, Mora posted a call for help to authorities on his Facebook page after a night of poaching raids. “Send messages to the police so they come to Moín beach… tell them not to be afraid but to come armed… 60 turtles lost and there wasn’t even a single nest… we need help and fast,” Mora wrote.
According to a press release from the OIJ, Mora was on patrol Thursday night along with four foreign volunteers – three women from the U.S. and one from Spain. At approximately 11:30 p.m., Mora stepped out of the car to move a tree trunk from the road and was grabbed by at least five masked men with guns. The men then drove the car to a nearby abandoned house where they left the four women guarded by two of the assailants, while Mora and the three other men drove off in the car. Once the women realized that their guards had left, they walked to a butterfly farm where Mora had worked and called the police. Mora’s body was found less than a kilometer away from the abandoned house, and an autopsy is pending. The OIJ and local police say that they have not yet determined a motive for the case or a possible link to drug trafficking.
Limón police and the Coast Guard began patrolling Moín Beach on May 6 after a number of nests were sacked by poachers. According to Erick Calderón, the Limón chief of police, there were five police officers on duty that night, and they had been in radio contact with Mora an hour before the incident. “The goal of the police patrols was less about protecting volunteers and more about increasing the number of eyes and ears on the beach,” Calderón said. “It’s a large area of 18 km and it’s completely dark. There is no way to monitor every part of it at all times.”
WIDECAST has closed the program following the incident, and has said that they will no longer send staff or volunteers to monitor the beach. “We can’t risk human lives for this project,” Chacón said. “But this is probably the exact result that the killers were hoping for.”
[This is a developing story, and was last updated at 5:16 p.m. on May 31. Follow www.ticotimes.net for additional updates.]