John Weekes

John Weekes is an NZME. News Service reporter based in Wellington.

Celebrity cures bring many dodgy imports

Celebrities have been blamed for a flood of odd contraband flowing through New Zealand.

Customs' Wildlife Enforcement Group member Stu Williams told the Herald on Sunday that they had seized products containing material from seahorses, saiga antelopes and even tigers.

In some cases, Asian pop stars or millionaires endorsed the use of rhino horn as a cancer treatment, much as some Western celebrities publicly sounded the praises of loony medical concoctions. Importers were copying them.

"Unfortunately, a lot of traditional medicines are fine. But there are a few that are not," Williams said. "And with bear bile and rhinoceros horn, someone influential has said: 'By taking rhinoceros horn, it has cured my cancer.' You can see how that can cause a species to be targeted."

Overseas, actress and singer Jessica Simpson was linked to fish pedicure treatments, where a person's feet are plunged into a pool full of small skin-eating fish.

Will & Grace actress Debra Messing has been linked to snake venom, with one foreign tabloid saying she used venom to keep her skin "smooth, glowing and youthful".

Williams said Customs was aware of cobra bile shipments arriving here. A United Nations meeting in Geneva last week discussed the over-exploitation of freshwater turtles and tortoises, as well as the use of Asian snakes used in the leather industry. The meeting also heard rhino poaching was at its highest level in a decade.

- Herald on Sunday

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