‘I feel like their mother’: Adorable story of the ex-poacher who used to eat baby turtles now saves them on their first journey to the sea
- Tabu Khanjare, 41, used to be one of hundreds of people who illegally poached turtles and their eggs in Tanzania
- He now works as a conservationist and helps the hatchlings, who are practically blind at birth, reach the ocean
- Poachers in Tanzania wait until female turtle lays her eggs, then they kill her and steal the eggs as source of food
- Only one in 1,000 turtles reach adulthood because they are so vulnerable and easily hunted down by predators
A former poacher who used to eat turtles for dinner has told how he now ‘feels like their mother’ – after he took a job helping baby ones take their first steps into the sea.
Tabu Khanjare was one of hundreds of turtle poachers in Tanzania who regularly dug out turtle eggs as a source of food – until he was convinced to apply for an unlikely job as a conservationist.
Now he spends hours patrolling beaches to find turtle nests, monitors their eggs each day and even makes barriers to protect them from predators like crabs and mongooses. He watches them make their perilous journey from their nests on the beach and into the sea.
Tabu, 41, said: ‘I feel like their mother. I have delivered them, and kept them, raised them and brought them back to the ocean.’
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Diet: Tabu was one of hundreds of Tanzanian poachers who would illegally hunt sea turtles (pictured) along the beach as a source of food
Early start: Tabu Khanjare (pictured), 41, began eating turtles for dinner when he was a child and his uncle would bring them to his house
Everyday food: Living in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, the former fisherman said the turtles were part of his daily diet
New job: Now the poacher-turned-conservationist says he ‘feels like their mother’ because he delivers them, raises them and takes them to the ocean
Watchful eye: Tabu now spends hours patrolling the beach looking for turtle nests and monitoring the eggs daily for two months – and protecting them from poachers
Protection: He and his fellow conservationists even make barriers to protect the turtles (pictured) from predators like crabs and mongooses
Dangerous start: Only one in 1,000 hatchlings (pictured) tend to reach adulthood because they are threatened by so many predators
Helping themselves: Tabu and other rangers clear paths for the turtles to feel their way instinctively to the sea (pictured)
Tabu began eating sea turtles as a small boy when his uncle would bring them to his home in Temeke, Dar Es Salaam.
He told MailOnline: ‘It was our diet. We thought they were fish, and that all animals in the sea were for human consumption. So eating the meat was normal to me.
‘My uncle used to eat a lot of turtles, and he went poaching for them at night, taking their meat as food.’
Tabu became a fisherman and diver as soon as he finished school. And because he ‘liked the taste of sea turtle eggs’, he would always look out for signs of turtles nesting on the beach.
One day a charity called Sea Sense arrived in Temeke and called a street meeting with all of the villagers where they told them how important it was to save sea turtles.
‘They said the turtles were our resources, and we should protect and own them,’ Tabu remembered.
‘They said if we saved the turtles, then we could start up an eco-tourism project, and build relationships with foreigners, like people from England.’
As a fisherman, he had already begun to notice that the turtles’ numbers were declining and so he decided, ‘it was time to save them’.
Habit: Tabu began eating turtles from a young age and told MailOnline: ‘It was our diet… We thought they were fish, and that all animals in the sea were for human consumption’
Hunted: He became a diver and fisherman as soon as he left primary school and he would always look out for turtle nests while diving
Education: Tabu now tries to convince other poachers to help save the turtles and is helping to educate villagers and young children (pictured) about the importance of saving them from extinction
Race for the sea: As a fisherman, Tabu began to notice that the number of turtles were declining and that ‘it was time to save them’
Hazards: These innocent turtles are hunted by predators like crabs and mongooses but humans are the biggest danger to their existence
Destroying their habitat: Illegal fishing, pollution and coastal developments have contributed to a decline in turtles, it is vital to save them
Saving lives: Sea Sense, the charity that employs Tabu, says they have now helped more than 300,000 turtles reach the Indian Ocean alive
Workforce: As well as Tabu, Sea Sense has trained 33 conservation officers in seven areas along the coast of Tanzania to protect them
He said: ‘Since that moment, I became a conservationist. I love my job. People now call me « the conservation officer » and people in the community are starting to realise that if they go out and slaughter a sea turtle, they’ll get into trouble with me.
‘I love convincing people about the importance of turtles, telling them that turtles are both ecologically important and useful as a resource to the community.
‘Turtles do not belong to the Government, nor outsiders, nor Europeans – but they belong to us. And we must protect them.
The turtles are only three inches long and virtually blind when they emerge from their nests, and have barely enough strength to lift themselves over blades of grass.
Only one in 1,000 will make it to adulthood, because they are threatened by so many predators – but it is mankind who is doing the most damage.
Tabu and other rangers clear paths for the turtles to feel their way instinctively to the sea, once they have hatched.
Female turtles return to their original homes after 30 years to lay their eggs, where poachers often hide to steal the eggs and kill the mother for meat. Illegal fishing, pollution and coastal developments have also contributed to their decline.
Long life: The turtles which survive the journey from beach to sea can live to 80 years old, and grow to five feet long and weigh 317.5kg
Poaching-free: Sea Sense, the turtle conservationist charity, has almost eliminated turtle poaching on a number of beaches in Tanzania
Responsibility: Each Sea Sense ranger patrols their own stretch of beach – finding their own turtle nests over the two months it takes them to incubate
Weak: The turtles are only three inches long when they are born and virtually blind when they emerge from their nests
But the charity that employs Tabu, Sea Sense, says it has now helped more than 300,000 turtles make it to the Indian Ocean alive. It has trained 33 conservation officers in seven areas up and down the coast of Tanzania.
Each patrols his or her own stretch of beach, finding and monitoring turtle nests over the two months it takes them to incubate.
Sea Sense’s Director Lindsey West, from Coventry, told MailOnline: ‘Sea turtles are older than dinosaurs, they’ve been around on the planet for longer than dinosaurs.’
‘So to know that the female has managed to reach sexual maturity at the age of 30 and come back to the same beach that she herself was born on to lay her own eggs – it is a very emotional experience.
‘Against the odds, they’re coming out into the ocean.’
Those turtles which survive could live to eighty years old, and grow to five feet (1.5m) long, weighing 700 lbs (317.5kg).
Sea Sense has nearly eliminated turtle poaching on some beaches in Tanzania, and is using the money from eco-tourism to invest in nearby villages.
Tabu now confronts other poachers in his community about killing turtles, and is helping educate villagers about the importance of saving turtles from extinction.