Tea revealed as snake fillets

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Inspection of a seemingly innocent package of tea revealed python fillets, raising biosecurity alarm at Auckland airport.

A passenger arriving from China presented the package to biosecurity officials upon landing at Auckland last week, saying she believed it to be tea, but as it had been packed by her mother, she wasn’t sure.

“It became clear the contents were definitely not tea when our quarantine inspector opened the package and discovered fresh fillets labelled as python,” says Brett Hickman, Detection Technology Manager, Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI). 

“The meat could have had diseases damaging to our native reptiles. And contributing to the biosecurity risk, it was crawling with insects.” 

Hickman says MPI staff regularly intercepted biosecurity risk items in misleading packaging.

“A lot of stuff from some countries gets vacuum-packed in whatever packaging a shop happens to have at the time. It means our inspectors have to open everything they are not sure about.”

MPI did not fine the passenger, as she had declared the item, says Hickman.  “She did the right thing by alerting us she was carrying food items, and we congratulate her for that.”

He says the interception was unusual. “We don’t see a lot of snake products like this, although occasionally we find snakes preserved in bottles of wine from places like Thailand and Vietnam.”

MPI has passed the meat to the Department of Conservation, as it may be subject to the Trade in Endangered Species Act.

Photo of snake meat available on request.

NB. This interception was made by the Ministry for Primary Industries, not NZ Customs.

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