New Zealand’s First Interpol Conference: Wildlife Smuggling

13 October 2003

(Embargoed until 14 October, 2003)

The growing problem of international wildlife smuggling is the focus of the first Interpol conference to be held in New Zealand.

Globally, wildlife smuggling is estimated to be worth $US6 billion to $US10 billion a year, ranking third behind narcotics and arms smuggling. Recent high profile prosecutions in New Zealand have involved parrot eggs and chameleons.

The 16th Meeting of the Interpol Working Group on Wildlife Crime, in Auckland on 14-16 October, is due to be opened by Police Commissioner Robert Robinson. The opening is due to be attended by Conservation Minister Chris Carter, Agriculture Minister Jim Sutton and Customs Minister Rick Barker.

The meeting is being hosted by New Zealand's Wildlife Enforcement Group (WEG) - an agency of representatives from Customs, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the Department of Conservation - whose role is to investigate wildlife smuggling.

New Zealand was concerned about possible involvement of Asian triad gangs, an upsurge in smuggling of native orchids and insects, and biosecurity and public health issues, Peter Younger, DOC's representative on WEG, said today.

"We know that the Russian 'mafia' or gangs have smuggled caviar to the Middle-East, so that's how big this business is, but we know a lot less about organised crime in our part of the world," Mr Younger said. "That's one of the things we will be doing at this conference, working with our Asian and other counterparts."

New Zealand was a key location in world wildlife trade, he said. Recent investigations had shown that smugglers "laundered" illegal trade items through New Zealand, using such smokescreens as captive breeding programmes.

For example, black cockatoos - worth $US25,000 a pair on the world market - are protected in Australia, but bred in captivity as non-native species in New Zealand and may be exported with country-of-origin certification. Only a DNA test would tell the difference between a New Zealand-born bird and a smuggled Australian bird.

Insects, orchids, geckos wanted by collectors:

WEG was doing preliminary work on smuggling of New Zealand insects, particularly weta, Mr Younger said, after revelations that worldwide trade in insects was booming.

"Our native species are for sale on web sites all over the place. They seem to be really popular among Japanese collectors. Insects like weta are hard to breed and may live no more than two years. Where are they coming from?"

Worldwide orchid trade was booming, with smuggling of New Zealand orchids on the rise, he said. Anything different or unusual was collectible.

New Zealand geckos – worth up to $2500 each – have become popular in Europe and the United States in the least three years. A reptile fair in Germany attracted 11,000 visitors, and one in Florida turned over $US6 million in reptile sales in a single weekend.

Biosecurity, public health and ecological risks:

If Newcastle's disease – present in Australian wild bird populations – arrived in New Zealand, a risk with smuggled birds, our poultry industry could be destroyed, with economic consequences, Mr Younger said.

Public health was a new dimension to wildlife smuggling, he said. Spreading of infectious diseases from smuggled animals into humans had attracted the attention of authorities after a bizarre case of West Nile virus in the United States.

WEG was starting to do risk assessments for New Zealand on the spread of disease from smuggled animals directly or indirectly via other animal species, into humans.

Australian rainbow lorikeets, released without authorisation into the wild from aviaries in Auckland, exemplified an ecological risk, Mr Younger said. The birds, which are subject to an eradication campaign in the Auckland area, were aggressive, fast-breeding nectar feeders, and displaced native birds such as tui.

New Zealand was hosting the meeting because of its world-leading enforcement methods, he said.

"What made us unique is that WEG, which formed 10 years ago, was the only multi-agency wildlife smuggling enforcement unit in the world. Other countries in the last few years, either from direct contact with us or independently, have formed similar groups. They have found, like us, it's the most efficient way to solve the problem."

Around 30 delegates are expected to attend the meeting including a number of influential overseas and local representatives:

  • John Sellar of the CITES Secretariat, based in Geneva. CITES = Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species
  • Regent Lalonde, Chair of the Interpol Working Group, based with Environment Canada
  • Bob Anderson, from the US Department of Justice
  • Detective Sgt. Chris Kerr, Head of National Criminal Intelligence, UK Police
  • Chris Hughes, from MAF's Special Investigation Group, who is speaking at the conference on bio and agricultural terrorism.

Media contacts: Peter Younger, Wildlife Enforcement Group spokesman, 09 359 6676, 029 272 6042; Rochelle Turnbull, NZ Customs Service communications adviser, 09 359 6507, 029 251 3167; Lesley Patston, MAF communications adviser, 04 474- 4246, 025 205-1418; Bernie Napp, DOC strategic media adviser, 04 471 3139, 0274 846 810

Further Information:

The meeting is being held at the Mercure Downtown Hotel, Auckland from the 14 – 16 October, 2003. Media are welcome to attend for photos or taping of gathering at the opening at 9am on 14 October. There is a room available for interviews. To arrange interviews with speakers, contact Rochelle Turnbull, NZ Customs communications adviser at the meeting on 029 251 3167. The meeting is otherwise closed to media.

A range of photos of wildlife intercepted in New Zealand is available on request.



Last Updated: 05 October 2010

Contact MPI

for general enquiries phone

0800 00 83 33