Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) staff pounced when a passenger arrived at Auckland airport last week carrying a lion tooth and claw.
The New Zealander had been travelling in the Maasai Mari in Kenya. He had purchased the items from a local market.
Young Maasai men could once be expected to prove their manhood by killing a lion armed with nothing more than a spear. Laws intended to protect lions now forbid this practice.
Steve Gay, MPI Operational Support Coordinator, says the items posed biosecurity risk to New Zealand and were illegal under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
From a biosecurity perspective, the items could have been carrying rabies or dangerous parasites,” says Mr Gay.
He says MPI will retain the tooth and claw for staff training purposes once the items have been treated with formalin. Because of the CITES issue, the passenger would not have been permitted to keep the items after treatment.
“It’s fantastic the items will now end up helping MPI maintain and enhance its on-going vigilance at the border,” says Mr Gay. The passenger declared the items, so was not fined.
NB. Photo of lion claw and tooth available on request.