Spider man caught and fined

27 July 2009

An Auckland man was sentenced in the Manukau District Court last week for the illegal importation of spiders and must pay a fine of $4,000 as well as investigation and court costs totalling $630.00.

Robert Featherstone, a self employed Aquascaper with a keen interest in the trading and breeding of exotic pets, was convicted under the Biosecurity Act 1993 after MAF Biosecurity New Zealand (MAFBNZ) officials intercepted a package containing tarantula spiders.

The package, described as a gift on declaration forms was addressed to Mr Featherstone's home address and had come from the Philippines. It contained seven live, juvenile spiders, each one orange in colour and secured in polystyrene.

Expert identification confirmed the spiders were a new species belonging to the tarantula family and unidentified previously in any part of the world.

When interviewed, the defendant admitted spiders were his hobby and passion and that he was planning on keeping them as pets. He knew he couldn't buy tarantulas in New Zealand so had ordered them from the Philippines and instructed them to be labelled as "gift" in an attempt to avoid custom duty.

MAF Investigations Manager Greg Reid said the outcome of the case sends a clear message about how seriously New Zealand takes biosecurity.

"The defendant's deliberate attempt to import these spiders is a serious offence. The introduction of unknown tarantula spiders to our country could have an impact on human health and result in the degradation of New Zealand's clean and safe environment and impact the tourism industry which generates billions of dollars to the economy."

Tarantula hairs contain a toxin that can cause a serious skin rash, an allergic reaction, and possibly even anaphylactic shock. Tarantulas have hairs on their body and hind legs that can pierce human skin and inject their toxin.

"Had the spiders got loose or been released in the local environment there would have been a danger to the native flora and fauna of New Zealand. The biggest tarantulas can kill animals as large as lizards and birds".

All imports of pests and animals must be cleared by MAF. Clearance is necessary to protect against the introduction of unwanted pests and diseases that could seriously affect new Zealand's environment. Exotic pests, particularly unidentified species, may contain dangerous diseases and many viral diseases are transmittable through the movement of exotic pets

MAF issues import health standards to manage the risks associated with the importation of goods which may cause unwanted harm to natural and physical resources and human health in New Zealand.

Media Contact:

Lisa Gibbison, Communications Adviser, MAF Biosecurity New Zealand, 04 894 0432 / 029 894 0432

Contact MPI

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