One of the offspring of a gecko that was recovered from
wildlife smugglers in Dunedin earlier this year. Photo by
In the past year alone, up to 200 protected and
endangered jewelled geckos, worth about $1.8 million on the
black market, could have been taken illegally from spots on
Among those stolen were geckos that had been returned to the
peninsula after being recaptured from wildlife smugglers last
It has led to a call by Dunedin Judge Stephen Coyle for
Parliament to look at stronger penalties for wildlife
smuggling. He sentenced Dieter Wilhelm Ernst (56) and
Thorsten Gerhard Horst Richartz (47) to four and a-half
months' jail each yesterday for hunting and possessing
protected wildlife - four jewelled geckos worth more than
5000 ($NZ9000) each, three of which were from Otago Peninsula
- in March this year.
As the sentences of four and a-half months on each of the two
charges were to be served concurrently and the men had
already spent eight and a-half weeks in jail, they would be
sent back to Germany next week.
Judge Coyle said the sentence reflected the maximum available
penalty of six months' imprisonment, although it did not
appear to act as a sufficient deterrent to those interested
in visiting New Zealand to "steal our wildlife".
"As the thefts appear to be ongoing and indeed some might say
escalating, I urge Parliament to look at revisiting the
Wildlife smuggling was becoming far too prevalent in New
Zealand, in particular on the Otago and Banks peninsulas, and
it concerned him "enormously" that the geckos returned to
Otago Peninsula last year appeared to have been re-stolen.
"It is offending against every New Zealander."
Ernst's letter of apology, read to the court by counsel
Werner van Harselaar, lacked credibility and tried to
minimise his offending, he said.
"I do not accept the apology as being genuine or indeed
remorseful in any way."
The facts did not bear out Richartz' claim of a lesser
involvement, which "ignored the premeditation and repetitive
nature" of the offending, Judge Coyle said.
Department of Conservation counsel Pene Williams said the
sentences, which included forfeiture of goods used in the
offending, were as good as could be expected "given the
constraints we are working within".
"The penalties are under review, but unfortunately the review
has not been completed in time to deal with these offenders."
Department of Conservation Coastal Otago manager Robin Thomas
said it was disappointing the behaviour continued, and the
case should signal the department, in conjunction with
police, customs, the Wildlife Enforcement Group and the
public, had the resources and did react to this crime.
Save the Otago Peninsula Inc spokeswoman Lala Frazer, who was
in court for the decision, said it was pleasing the judge had
recognised the need for the legislation to be changed.
"A greater penalty is something we want to encourage."