Two months after the murder of Jairo Mora Sandoval, a 26-year-old environmental worker trying to prevent egg poaching from leatherback turtle nests in Costa Rica, authorities made the first arrests on Wednesday in a series of raids in and around Limón, on the Caribbean coast.

The arrests came as both domestic and international pressure for action grew. Demonstrations were held this week in the capital. On Thursday, the Tico Times reported that John Knox, a United Nations official focused on the intersection of human rights and the environment visiting the country, held a news conference in which he made this point:

“It’s not the task of social organizations, civil society or citizens to put their own lives at risk to protect the environment. These are police functions that have to be adequately carried out by the government,” Knox said. “It’s one thing to protect turtle eggs from tourists, it’s another to protect them from poachers….”

Earlier this month Representative Jared Huffman, Democrat of California, urged Secretary of State John Kerry to press Costa Rica to pursue justice in the case, noting that three American women and a Spanish woman who were volunteers in the turtle protection effort had been abducted in the same incident (they escaped).

For the moment, the motives behind the slaying remain murky. A detailed Tico Times article on the raids describes conflicting theories about the murder. Police are pointing to evidence of a simple robbery by a violent gang, but conservationists assert there were signs that efforts to stem egg poaching may have led to the killing.

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Leatherback photo © Eduardo Lugo