A young hawksbill turtle saved by a restaurateur from ending up on a diner's plate has been sent to Ocean Park for checks to see if it is healthy enough to be released back into the wild.
"If the health checks show that it is in good condition, we will release it into the waters near south Hong Kong," said Ng Ka-yan, a wetland and fauna conservation officer at the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.
Officials said the turtle was about 36cm long and it looked healthy. It was about 20 years old and still too young to be sexed just from its appearance.
Ng Pak-yan, owner of Royal Dragon Seafood Cuisine in Mong Kok, said the person who caught the 5kg hawksbill went to his restaurant on Tuesday evening, asking him to cook it.
He said he had never seen anyone eat a sea turtle in his 20 years in the business and he tried to persuade the angler to release it but the client was not willing to take up his suggestion. So Ng decided to buy the turtle from him.
"Turtles are spiritual creatures," Ng said. "They bring good fortune and can live very long. People can't eat them."
He would not say how much he paid for it other than that it was a five-figure sum.
Hawksbill turtles are categorised as critically endangered and they are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources' red list of threatened species.
Ng said he would buy and release rare or other impressive specimens when he saw them.
Once he bought a giant grouper - also for a five-figure sum - from a customer.
"I feel it was worth it," he said. "They are so beautiful. But I'd never thought that this one would be so endangered and precious."
According to WWF, the population of hawksbill turtles, which can grow to more than 60kg in weight and a length of one metre, has nosedived more than 80 per cent in the past century and the estimated population of adult nesting females was just 8,000 in 2006.
Conservation officials said all sea turtle species are protected by law and that possessing or trading in them can be punished by a fine of up to HK$5 million and imprisonment for two years.
The last time a hawksbill turtle was seen in Hong Kong was after Typhoon Utor skirted the city last month, when people found one washed ashore.