Five years' jail for animal smugglers 'good news'

Jacqui Dean
Jacqui Dean
Smugglers caught taking endangered Otago wildlife out of New Zealand could soon face up to five years in prison, after a Select Committee report recommended harsher deterrents.

Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean took a member's Bill to Parliament last year pushing for the introduction of higher financial penalties and a two-year jail term for anyone caught trading absolutely endangered wildlife.

However, a report from the Local Government and Environment Select Committee now recommends the penalty be raised to five years in prison for offences committed for commercial gain.

Mrs Dean said the Conservation (Natural Heritage Protection) Bill, which would also introduce a consistent approach to the administration of penalties imposed by the Department of Conservation (Doc), had support from ''right across the House''.

She now expected the Bill to receive a second parliamentary reading within ''the next few weeks'', and it could become law by within months.

That was good news for endangered jewelled gecko and the Otago skink, she said.

''There is this terrible trade in jewelled geckos and they end up in Europe at animal trade fairs and they are worth $20,000 a breeding pair and the penalties have not been really equal to the crime.

''What we want to do is send the strongest possible message to anyone coming to New Zealand, because it's generally people that come to New Zealand that take the skinks and take them offshore, but with a prison sentence they will be excluded from coming back to New Zealand again.''

The Bill would amend five Acts of Parliament.

Attempts to smuggle about 50 geckos from Otago and Banks peninsulas and 24 Otago skinks from their natural habitats have been foiled over the past three years, but the maximum penalties to date have been fines of only $5000 and 18 weeks in prison.

The Select Committee proposals would result in fines of $300,000 and jail terms of up to five years. Doc Grand and Otago Skink Recovery Programme manager Andy Hutcheon said it would be ''great'' to see ''proper and serious'' penalties introduced for people caught smuggling endangered animals.

''From past experience dealing with jewelled geckos, it's proper, serious, organised crime going on there.''

He added that even if skinks and geckos were returned to the wild after being unlawfully removed, there was no information available on what the possible ''long-term effects'' could be on the lizards.

-andrew.ashton@odt.co.nz