15 November 2019
The NSW District Court has delivered a clear warning to potential wildlife smugglers with the sentencing of a man to 15 months imprisonment for attempting to smuggle native lizards to Hong Kong in ‘chip’ containers and children’s toys.
The case followed an extensive investigation by the Department of Environment and Energy along with forensic analysis by the Australian Federal Police, and underlines the Morrison Government’s determination to crack down on all illegal wildlife trade.
Chinese national, Mr King Chuen Chong, was arrested and granted conditional bail in September 2018 for 11 counts of attempting to export regulated native specimens which is an offence under Australia’s national environment law—the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). Mr Chong entered a guilty plea to eight export charges on 29 January 2019.
The Department’s investigation found that Mr Chong made multiple attempts to smuggle live native lizards out of Australia to Hong Kong, lodging 11 parcels containing the lizards at various Australian Post outlets between August and September 2018. These were later intercepted at the Sydney Gateway Facility.
Within the parcels, lizards were concealed in chip tubes and children’s toys to avoid detection. The reptiles included Shingleback lizards, Blue-Tongue lizards, Spiny Tail skinks, Gidgee skinks, Western Slender Tail Blue Tongue lizards and Geckos which are all regulated native specimens in Australia.
Under the EPBC Act, each count has a maximum penalty being imprisonment for 10 years and/or a $210,000 fine for an individual or a $1,050,000 fine for a corporation.
Mr Chong’s sentence comes within weeks of a successful appeal in the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal against a non-custodial sentence handed to convicted wildlife smuggler Martin Kennedy. As a result of the appeal, Mr Kennedy received a new sentence of four years imprisonment, with a non-parole period of two years and six months.
There is a very clear message that if you engage in wildlife smuggling that you are likely to find yourself in jail.
The Head of the Department of the Environment and Energy’s Office of Compliance, Monica Collins, said that today’s outcome reflects the Department’s determination to work with State, Commonwealth and international authorities to disrupt individuals and crime syndicates threatening our wildlife.
“Wildlife crime is a global problem, increasingly recognised as a specialised area of organised crime,” Ms Collins said.
“Native Australian reptiles such as lizards and snakes are highly sought after overseas and the illegal trade in wildlife is one of the largest illegal trades in the world.
“What cannot be quantified with illegal international wildlife trafficking is the damage that the world-wide demand for wildlife products has on biodiversity, and the animals themselves, often transported in conditions that are stressful, very cruel and often fatal.”
Members of the public with any information about trade in illegal wildlife or wildlife products should contact investigations [at] environment.gov.au or compliance [at] environment.gov.au