EcoGecko Consultants herpetologist Carey Knox says the
smuggling of rare jewelled geckos is contributing to their
decline. Photo supplied.
Concerns have been raised that freedom campers may be
taking Otago Peninsula's rare jewelled geckos.
However, Department of Conservation (Doc) partnerships ranger
Craig Wilson said Doc had no evidence to suggest freedom
campers were any more likely to be wildlife smugglers than
Speaking at a recent meeting of the Otago Peninsula Community
Board, David Holdsworth said it was easy for freedom campers
to go online and find out where the geckos lived, park their
vehicles nearby and steal them.
Until recently, Dr Holdsworth had been a member of the Otago
Conservation Board and said there had been ongoing problems
with this behaviour all around the region.
Ecogecko Consultants herpetologist Carey Knox said smuggling
was a threat to the gecko population and was contributing to
declining numbers, although the level of smuggling was
''It's hard to put numbers to it. We never know how many are
being taken,'' he said.
However, gecko numbers declined every summer at the more
easily accessible locations. There was a good chance tourists
were parking overnight and taking the geckos, he said.
Locals kept an eye out for any suspicious activities and had
reported number plates to police, which had led to the arrest
of smugglers in the past, he said.
According to Doc, seven foreign tourists have been prosecuted
for attempting to smuggle geckos out of New Zealand since
2010. Five of these cases were from Christchurch and two from
Six of the offenders were European, and one Mexican.
Occasionally New Zealanders were prosecuted for taking
geckos, generally not for exporting to other countries, but
to keep as pets (which is also illegal).
The penalties for taking wildlife have recently been
increased. Taking protected wildlife for commercial gain can
now be punished by a fine of up to $300,000 and a maximum
five-year jail term.
Mr Wilson said most of the people prosecuted for stealing
geckos were European tourists rather than New Zealand
There were sites on the peninsula that Doc monitored and if a
camper van was seen parked there, Doc officers would have a
word to its inhabitants, Mr Wilson said.
Otago Peninsula Community Board chairwoman Christine Garey
said the board had been concerned about jewelled geckos being
taken for a long time.
She was pleased recent legislation had set out harsher
However, she thought any people driving any vehicle could
steal the geckos and assigning blame to freedom campers alone
was a bit misleading.
The local community was very ''astute'' at phoning in
vehicles parked in suspicious areas, she said.