A scorpion smuggling ring has been smashed and four men will
appear in court after raids on Queenstown and Arrowtown
homes, police say.
The men, all aged under 30, are charged with breaches of the
Biosecurity Act 1993 after six live black rock scorpions
(Urodacus manicatus) were allegedly smuggled from Australia
through Christchurch International Airport and then to
Three of the men are expected to appear in the Queenstown
District Court on October 7 and the other man in the
Christchurch District Court on a date to be arranged.
The maximum penalty for each of the charges is five years'
prison, or a fine of $100,000.
The men were arrested after a Ministry for Primary Industries
operation, codenamed ''Operation Rock''.
The ministry received information in April a Queenstown man
was in possession of a scorpion. A search was carried out and
one live scorpion was discovered.
Further investigations, including obtaining cellphone
records, suggested more scorpions were involved. Two houses
in Queenstown and Arrowtown were searched.
Questioning indicated four men were involved in the smuggling
ring, the ministry said yesterday. All of the scorpions had
Scorpions are restricted organisms as defined by the
Biosecurity Act 1993 and, as such, are unauthorised goods if
outside a containment facility without the authority of an
South Island compliance manager John Slaughter said such
incidents were among the worst of their kind and could have
had serious biosecurity implications had the scorpions
''In the very worst-case scenario, an illegally introduced
organism could have truly catastrophic effects on New
Zealand's primary and tourism industries,'' he said.
''We have expert advice that these scorpions could survive in
the New Zealand climate, so it's safe to say that we view
this as an exceptionally stupid thing to do.''
Otago Museum entomologist Anthony Harris said the impact of
the scorpions on New Zealand's biodiversity would need to be
looked at carefully, but the creatures ''could potentially be
quite a pest'' if they escaped into the wild.
The black rock scorpion is dark-coloured, grows up to 55mm in
length and is often found living under rocks and logs across
Its sting can cause inflammation and pain for several hours.
It can survive for eight years or more in the wild.