27 Aug 2010

Tougher penalties for wildlife smugglers

9:05 pm on 27 August 2010

The Conservation Minister plans to toughen penalties for foreigners caught smuggling native wildlife to block them from re-entering New Zealand.

The changes are planned for next year and follow several high-profile cases of people caught smuggling rare lizards.

Three men from Germany, Mexico and Switzerland were sent to jail for varying terms earlier this year for trying to take 15 jewelled geckos.

At their sentencing, Judge Jane Farish questioned whether the maximum penalty of six months in jail was enough to deter smugglers.

Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson said on Friday she will lift the maximum penalty to three years' imprisonment and double the maximum fine to $200,000.

Ms Wilkinson said after the recent shooting of native wood pigeons (kereru) by a visiting Norwegian hunting party, she will also lift penalties for shooting protected wildlife to match.

Any foreigner sentenced to 12 months in jail is routinely blocked from entering New Zealand.

Stronger penalties supported

Willdlife parks and groups believe stronger penalties for smuggling native animals will help deter such crimes.

Among those to support the move are Orana Park near Christchurch, which had three geckos stolen in 2006, and the Whangarei Museum and Heritage Park, which had seven geckos taken in June with a black market value of $10,000.

The operations manager for the Whangarei park, Sue Walters, says she will back any move to put smugglers off - especially those stealing to order for the black market. The park now has its geckos in a nocturnal house with an alarm.

Conservation group Forest and Bird's advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell says people are carrying out such actions in a very deliberate, systematic way and it is important the penalties reflect the severity of the crime.