A photograph of a child riding a sea turtle, believed to be somewhere in Sabah, has sparked outrage among netizens, who are calling for action to be taken against the tour operator involved. (Pic screenshot from Facebook)

KOTA KINABALU: A photograph of a child riding a sea turtle, believed to be somewhere in Sabah, has sparked outrage among netizens, who are calling for action to be taken against the tour operator involved.

The picture, which was taken in what appeared to be a tourist boat, showed the child, wearing a life-jacket, sitting on top of the protected species while being surrounded by several people, believed to be tourists.

It went viral on Facebook and was also circulated through WhatsApp today. However, it could not be ascertained when or where the incident took place.

Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said the department was aware of the photograph and is currently investigating the matter.

"I've checked with our enforcement team in Semporna and so far, they found no such incident has taken place. Perhaps, it's a recycled photo but I've instructed the team to look into it," he said.

Meanwhile, Wildlife Department assistant director Dr Sen Nathan, whose name was tagged in the picture on Facebook, said there was no further details on the incident provided by the complainant.

In order for the department to take action, he said the department would first need to verify the place, time and boat owner.

"Then they (the culprits) can be charged for endangering the life of a totally protected wildlife species (Schedule 1- Hawksbill Turtle)," he said.

The picture has attracted attention from netizens, who condemned the behaviour of the tourists and tour operators.

Some Facebook users said tourists should not be blamed but felt the tour operators should be fined and stripped of their licences for allowing it to take place.