Four men are in custody in Perth accused of attempting to export more than 150 native animals from Western Australia.
The men were arrested at Perth international airport earlier this month after customs was tipped off by postal workers who noticed something amiss in packages sent from destinations including Carnarvon, Tom Price and Geraldton. All were destined for Europe.
It is alleged the men, two Russians and two Czechs, packed 157 reptiles and amphibians including skinks, geckos, frogs and Pygmy pythons into hollowed out books and cigarette packets.
Also uncovered were 33 dead reptiles that appeared to have been tagged for use as specimens. Two of the men also allegedly had reptiles hidden in their luggage.
During a separate Department of Parks and Wildlife operation this month, 92 reptiles were found at Broome, Derby and NSW post offices and in a car intercepted by police in Broome. A West Australian man and two others from NSW, including a minor, could face more than 90 charges under the Wildlife Conservation Act.
Senior wildlife officer Rick Dawson said more than 20 of the reptiles were dead by the time they had been discovered by authorities or had since died. Among the animals seized were several species of reptile listed as specially protected.
Western Australian environment minister, Albert Jacob, said the state government was drafting legislation to significantly increase penalties for wildlife smuggling, raising fines from the current maximum of $10,000 to up to $500,000. The legislation should be introduced within the Liberal party’s current term of government, Jacob said.
Wildlife traffickers also face up to 10 years in prison.
This article was first published by The Guardian on 16 Feb 2015.