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17 February 1999
An illegal Russian immigrant has been safely repatriated to his native Vladivostok following an eventful trip to New Zealand.
The tortoise, ‘Squirtal' (probably not his Russian name), had been brought in by an elderly Russian gentleman in his suit pocket last year as a gift for his grandson. The gentleman was travelling with is wife and neither spoke any English, nor were they aware of New Zealand's strict requirements dealing with the importation of live animals.
Passengers sitting beside them on the plane assisted in completing their declarations. The couple's bags were x-rayed and nothing was found.
The young grandson excitedly took his new pet to school the very next day and a concerned parent contacted the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. Investigators from MAF Regulatory Authority's Enforcement Unit seized Squirtal from a residential address on Auckland's North Shore.
He was secured at the Auckland zoo pending formal identification and a decision on its final disposal. Salmonella swabs were taken and returned negative results.Most smuggled reptiles seized by the Ministry in recent years have returned positive results for salmonella and also for strains exotic to New Zealand so there is a very real risk associated with the uncontrolled importation of these animals.
There is no current import health standard allowing the introduction of tortoises into New Zealand.
The tortoise was identified as a species (Testudo horsfieldii)listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) list.Attempts were made by the zoo to locate a recognised breeding programme in other over seas zoos to no avail, so MAF's Chief Veterinary Officer approved the repatriation of the tortoise to Russia with the importers at their own cost.
Squirtal was returned safely to Russia in earlier this month.
Media inquiries to:
Debbie Gee, Director, Corporate Communications 04-474 4258