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9 April 1998
A bird smuggler was sentenced to nine months imprisonment on three charges of breaching the Biosecurity Act 1993 at the Otahuhu District Court on Tuesday. The smuggler was prosecuted by the MAF Enforcement Unit. Ernest George Ritson was arrested at Auckland International Airport in a high profile operation in April last year for smuggling exotic bird eggs into New Zealand.
He was caught in a surveillance operation, dubbed ‘Crosscut', by the Wildlife Enforcement Group (WEG), a unit made up of officers from MAF, Customs and the Department of Conservation. The New Zealand Police and officials in Britain, Australia and Europe were also involved.
The enforcement group was working from UK information that a male suspect had boarded a flight for Auckland. New Zealand Government officials believe Mr Ritson was a courier for an internationally connected wildlife smuggling group.
Mr Ritson was caught with 32 exotic bird eggs in a specially designed padded harness wrapped around his waist. Once detained, he broke all but one of the eggs. The embryos were identified as a hooked beak species of bird, either from the raptor or parrot family. Raptors include the predatory bird, the eagle, hawk and falcon, which are prohibited in Australasia.
The importation of eggs and birds is strictly controlled by MAF as the uncontrolled importation of these items pose a significant risk to New Zealand's native fauna and the commercial poultry industry.
The smuggling of birds, especially parrots, into New Zealand is a lucrative trade. In recent years international smuggling rings have operated through Australia and New Zealand with links to Europe, South America and the United States.
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