Poaching season targets native species

By Ellen Dorset

A tuatara. Photo / Sarah Ivey
A tuatara. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Wildlife officials are on full alert as poaching season looms, sparking an increase in the illegal trade of exotic species.

Wildlife Enforcement Group (WEG) senior investigator Colin Hitchcock said the illegal trading of tuatara and geckos is "quite seasonal" due to breeding patterns of reptiles and invertebrates.

"Poaching season commences around January, so until the weather improves we don't see too much of it."

There are currently two cases before our courts, involving the smuggling of exotic parrots and the other, the smuggling of an asian cobra.

Authorities claim wildlife smuggling is the world's third largest illegal trade behind drugs and guns.

International police organisation Interpol has estimated the global wildlife smuggling trade to be worth $9.5 billion to $16 billion a year.

New Zealand's array of exotic species including Kea, Kaka, Tuatara and frogs makes us a prime target for wildlife smugglers, he said.

Geckos are one of the most valuable species and fetch the most money as well as exotic parrots, tuatara and endemic species.

"On a New Zealand scale, the problem is larger than we would prefer," Mr Hitchcock said.

"The loss of any of our endemic species is the loss of our taonga. New Zealand species are unique and are not found anywhere else in the world."

Although the organisation, which is a collaboration of the Department of Conservation, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and New Zealand Customs Service staff, works tirelessly to catch the offenders, some inevitably manage to slip through the cracks.

"It is still evident our species are being traded - we know some get through because they pop up for sale on the internet," Mr Hitchcock said.

"We're constantly working to counter this criminal activity but it's an ongoing problem given the amount of money involved and the lengths criminals will go to just to make a profit."

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