Four people charged after MPI scorpion smuggling sting in Operation Rock
Four people have been charged and will be appearing in the Queenstown and Christchurch District Courts after being caught by Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) investigators allegedly smuggling live scorpions into Queenstown in an operation codenamed ‘Operation Rock’.
Four men are charged with various breaches to the Biosecurity Act 1993 after six Black Rock Scorpions (Urodacus manicatus) were allegedly smuggled from Australia through Christchurch International Airport and then into Queenstown.
In April 2013, MPI received information that a Queenstown man was in possession of scorpion. As a result of this information a search was carried out in April and a live scorpion was discovered.
Further investigations, including obtaining cell phone records, suggested that there were more scorpions. A further search warrant was carried out at two addresses in Queenstown and Arrowtown. Questioning of the defendants during the searches indicated that a total of four men were involved in the smuggling ring and that all of the scorpions had been destroyed. MPI is satisfied that all of the smuggled scorpions have been accounted for.
Scorpions are restricted organisms as defined by the Biosecurity Act 1993 and as such are unauthorised goods if they are outside of a containment facility without the authority of an Inspector. The maximum penalty for each of the charges faced by the men is five years in prison or a fine of $100,000.
South Island Compliance Manager, John Slaughter says this type of alleged offending is up there with the worst of its kind, and could have had serious biosecurity implications had the scorpions escaped.
“Illegally introduced organisms can have major consequences for native species of all types if they compete or prey upon native species. In the very worst case scenario an illegally introduced organism could have truly catastrophic effects on New Zealand’s primary and tourism industries.
“We have expert advice that these scorpions could survive in the New Zealand climate, so it’s safe to say that we view this as an exceptionally stupid thing to do.”
“MPI takes biosecurity very seriously and it is our top priority. We very much appreciate the assistance of the public in reporting anything they feel might pose a biosecurity risk. If you think you have found a pest, plant disease or animal disease that should not be in New Zealand please call the exotic pest and disease hotline on 0800 80 99 66.”
As this case is currently before the courts, MPI will be making no further comment at this stage.
Information on Black Rock Scorpions
The Black Rock Scorpion is a dark-coloured species that can grow up to 55mm in length and is often found living under rocks and logs in Australia. It is a widespread species and can be found in Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales, the ACT and Queensland. Its sting can cause inflammation and pain for several hours in humans. It is a relatively long-lived species and can survive for eight years or more in the wild.