Cashed-up buyers demand Aussie reptiles in cruel illegal trade
BELOVED Australian reptiles are being stuffed in anything from socks, to hollowed out books, in order to be smuggled into black markets.
Convicted animal smuggler Niall Cooke opened up about the illegal trade on ABC’s 7.30, where animals including blue-tongue lizards and snakes fetch tens of thousands of dollars.
The program reported Mr Cooke, 25, begun indulging in the cruel practice during his teenage years.
He said well-heeled buyers in Europe and Asia had an appetite for the exotic creatures, which can fetch as much as $100,000.
“The biggest price I’ve heard was for lizards called lace monitors, that are found on the east coast of Australia,” Mr Cooke told 7.30.
“They can fetch up to $80-100,000 a pair when they get to USA and Germany.”
Mr Cooke was convicted of more than forty charges of possessing and transporting protected animals, but has since turned his life around.
He said smugglers often got their fix in the Kimberly region in Western Australia’s north, which he explained has a plethora of sought after animals including rock monitors and tree snakes.
“The Kimberley has, pretty much, some of the most beautiful looking reptiles in Australia,” Mr Cooke said.
“So it’s pretty common to get people coming here and looking like it’s a candy store and taking what they can.”
The report said wildlife trafficking is worth about $23 billion globally, and there is evidence business is booming in Australia.
The ABC reported in early May a driver pulled over for speeding near the boarder of South Australia and Western Australia was with 219 reptiles and mammals stuffed inside a suitcase.
WA Parks and Wildlife Service’s officer Matt Swan said he knew of cases where deadly animals had ended up on the wrong doorstep.
Mr Swan explained the cruel reality of transporting creatures illegally.
“An animal gets shoved in a pillowcase, sits in the back of a car for potentially weeks at a time. Then it gets shoved into a plastic container and posted across the country, or posted around the world, and it’s quite a perilous journey,” Mr Swan said.
In another instance, authorities found a lizard bound for Asia wrapped up in masking tape and stuffed inside a teddy bear, the report revealed.
The Western Australia government has plans to increase animal smuggling penalties to between $500,000-$2.5 million when the new Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 passes through state parliament, the ABC reported.
But Mr Cooke told 7.30 authorities were struggling to keep up with the ride of social media.
He said a man in the US openly advertised on Instagram Frilled-neck lizards for $3000 each.
Once animals are overseas, Australian authorities are powerless to seize them or make arrests.
Mr Cooke said he believed Australia’s tight animal export restrictions fuelled the black marked, and that illegal trading could be reduced if they relaxed their approach.
“If they do open the export for international trade, it will pretty much stop the smuggling, because now they can legally pay for the licence to bring in animals from Australia,” Mr Cooke told 7.30.
But Western Australia Environment Minister Stephen Dawson hit back, saying it was a terrible idea.
“So this man is asking me to change the legislation so he can make some money and doesn’t get caught doing the wrong thing?” Mr Dawson said.
“The penalties will increase from about $10,000, up to about $500,000 for an individual who does this.”