Auckland student ordered to pay $15,000 following MPI prosecution for illegal importation of reptiles

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An Auckland student has been ordered to pay $15,000 after admitting to importing a range of banned reptiles including an American corn snake considered to be a serious risk to New Zealand’s ecology and economy.

21 year-old Harrison Edward Sollis pleaded guilty to one charge of attempting to possess unauthorised goods, knowing they were unauthorised, when he appeared in the North Shore District Court earlier this week.

The charge was laid by the Ministry for Primary Industries after an investigation that began 2 years ago.

The court heard that Sollis, who keeps and breeds New Zealand and exotic reptiles, arranged for a contact in Sweden to post five veiled chameleons, one iguana, and one American corn snake to the address of a friend in Hillsborough in October 2014.

The package was intercepted by MPI staff at the Auckland International Mail Centre. 

When Sollis was interviewed by MPI investigators, he stated he had always been interested in reptiles but denied any knowledge of the intercepted mail or ordering reptiles from overseas.

He applied for a discharge without conviction on the grounds that a conviction would interfere with his studies in ecology and zoology and his subsequent career aspirations.

The presiding judge declined his application noting that Sollis’ offending was too serious.

Sollis was convicted and ordered to pay $15,000 towards the cost of the investigation.

Ministry for Primary Industries Northern region Investigations Manager Simon Anderson says the investigation involved a number of MPI staff and domestic and international agencies.

"Thanks to the dedication of the MPI staff involved in all aspects of this investigation a positive biosecurity outcome was achieved. This type of offending involved some potentially very serious ramifications for New Zealand’s ecology, economy and international reputation.

"The risks associated with illegal importation of reptiles is two-fold. Firstly there is the risk of the species becoming established and devastating our native species. Secondly, there is the risk of parasites and pathogens that various species may bring with them. Both could be catastrophic for the environment.

"Snakes are totally prohibited in New Zealand and are specifically designated as prohibited under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act.

The gravity of this sort of offending cannot be underestimated. Any organisms not normally seen or detected in New Zealand need to be reported to MPI. Members of the public can contact MPI on 0800 80 99 66."

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