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TANJUNG, BALI (November 24, 2000): Tanjung Benoa is a fishing village on the idyllic south-east coast of Bali with fishermen tending their ageing boats and small Hindu temples on the shoreline. But underneath this veneer of normality, Tanjung is the centre of a deadly illegal trade in tortoise shell and meat that is threatening to exterminate one of the world's most ancient species. Dozens of majestic green sea turtles are being brutally slaughtered, many of them for export to Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Turtle experts based in Australia believe that at the turn of the last century the region was home to up to one third of the world's turtles -- a time when sailors claimed one could walk from one island to another on the backs of turtles. The scale of the slaughter in recent decades, especially the past 10 years, has been so great that the figure is now down to five percent. The government gave special dispensation to Bali, in the form of a 5,000-animal annual quota for religious and traditional village ceremonies that are part of Balinese culture. But the quota was abused, say the Indonesian campaigning group, Animal Conservation For Life. Responding to pressure, the Balinese governor withdrew the quota and banned turtle trading and consumption. Far more threatening to illegal traders are the calls from Balinese religious leaders to stop the turtle trade altogether. Hindu high priests such as Ida Pedanda Gede Ngurah Kaleran are now admitting that turtles are not crucial for religious or traditional rituals. "Substitutes can be used," he says. "Either other animals or even virtual animals in the form of drawings or models. Nowhere does it say that the actual animal has to be killed." Such slaughter of turtles goes against Hindu teaching, he says. "Hindus are not allowed to be violent against others of God's creatures. What is going on with the turtles certainly contravenes that teaching."