Stop our native wildlife leaving the country – intercept prevents illegal international reptile trade

Issued: 24 July 2020

One man has been deported and others face serious charges after Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) officers intercepted an illegal shipment of Australian lizards packed in rice cookers.

The Department of Environment and Science (DES) worked in collaboration with the Environmental Crime team from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, the Queensland Police Service and Australia Post on the intercept.

QPWS’s Wildlife Southern Operations Coordinator Warren Christensen Australia Post officers at the international mail distribution centre alerted QPWS wildlife officers about smuggling attempts in 2018 and 2019.

“X-Rays conducted on brand new rice cookers bound for China by Australia Post revealed unexplainable shadows, Mr Christensen said.

“When QPWS wildlife officers dismantled the rice cookers and inspected them, a number of juvenile lizards were located in the electronic compartments.

“The reptiles, which included an albino blue tongue, bearded dragons and shingleback lizards, had been placed inside socks or cloth packaging, with elastic binding their legs to their bodies, preventing them from moving.

“These attempts were sophisticated operations, with these reptiles worth thousands on the international black market.”

Mr Christensen said the lizards were highly sought after around the world due to their beauty and unique traits.

“Smuggling animals through international mail is extremely cruel. Not only are animals bound and packed tightly inside boxes, they have no access to food, water or clean air,” Mr Christensen said.

“Thankfully these animals did not make it onto the black market, but they cannot be released into the wild because we don’t know where they were captured or if they were exposed to disease.

“They will spend the rest of their days in captivity, taking part in breeding programs and educating the public about the illegal trade of wildlife.”

Following the intercept, a 28-year-old Taiwanese man was arrested in Victoria and charged with 67 offences, including aggravated cruelty to an animal. He was sentenced to six-months in prison before being deported.

Australia Post’s General Manager Group Security Kevin Zuccato said the organisation was proud to help prevent the lizards from being smuggled out of the country.

“Australia Post officers at our international mail distribution centres are trained to detect the illegal smuggling of native Australian animals during the X-Ray process,” Mr Zuccato said.

“We have helped intercept many wildlife smuggling attempts and our officers will continue to prevent illegal smuggling and ensure the perpetrators are caught.”

Mr Christensen said QPWS wildlife officers were determined to do what they could to prevent the illegal international trade of wildlife.

“Wildlife trafficking is a major indictable offence and carries significant penalties, including up to 10 years imprisonment and a hefty $210,000 fine,” Mr Christensen said.

“If you see people attempting to catch reptiles anywhere in Queensland, call us on 1300 130 372, because any piece of information helps.”

Vision and photos of the lizards being discovered are available at this Dropbox link: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/fqevmgx1y1mhnec/AABenHVr5b7MTTQ-vY31oQm1a?dl=0