Pahiatua insect man pays hefty price for illegally possessing exotic moths and eggs

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A Pahiatua insect expert has paid a hefty price for possessing illegally obtained exotic moth eggs, hatching them and redistributing eggs to 3 other people around the country.

28 year-old entomologist, Zachary Paul Warren, was fined $11,250 when he appeared for sentencing in the Palmerston North District Court yesterday over two charges under the Biosecurity Act.

Warren pleaded guilty to the charges late last year after his offending was detected by MPI biosecurity officers.

Ministry for Primary Industries Team Manager Compliance Investigations, Steve Ham, says Mr Warren told officers, “I’ll be honest, you’re going to find something” as soon as they knocked on his front door in June last year.

“He then led biosecurity officers to a window where he had thrown out a branch containing four large caterpillars and bowls that contained live caterpillars on leaves,” says Mr Ham.

“A total of 37 live caterpillars and 41 dead moths were found. The dead moths were wrapped in paper triangle envelopes in a box in what Mr Warren called the ‘butterfly room’ and were ready to be posted out to be used in displays.

“All of the moths found at the house are unauthorised under the Biosecurity Act 1993 and are considered to be new organisms under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act (HSNO)”.

Mr Ham says Mr Warren was sent between 20 and 30 Malaysian Moon Moth eggs late last year in a small plastic tube inside a greeting card by a friend who lives in New Caledonia.

He said he sensed it was wrong and that he shouldn’t have them but his excitement at receiving them and the opportunity to raise them “drowned out” any thoughts of reporting the eggs and handing them over to MPI.

In sentencing, Judge Lance Rowe said that if the moths had posed a greater risk to New Zealand’s ecosystem, or if they had been dealt with for a profit, the likely sentence would have been imprisonment.

He then invited Warren to tell those interested in entomology what had happened in court and said there was no room to introduce unauthorised species into New Zealand.

“This sentence reflects the high risk consequences for New Zealand if organisms such as this became established,” says Mr Ham.

“Mr Warren’s blatant disregard for biosecurity could place a lot of New Zealand industries in jeopardy.

“Due to the tropical nature of the species of moth they would not have become established here in New Zealand however there is always the risk that associated organisms and pathogens that can live on the moths could be introduced.

“A more detrimental effect on New Zealand's ecosystem could occur if a different species were introduced from a more temperate climate similar to that of New Zealand.” 

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