Reptile breeder fined $15,000 for illegal importation

Five veiled chameleons, also known as the Yemen chameleon, were part of the shipment stopped at the airport. Photo / 123RF
Five veiled chameleons, also known as the Yemen chameleon, were part of the shipment stopped at the airport. Photo / 123RF

An exotic reptile breeder has been fined $15,000 for illegally importing five chameleons, one iguana, and an American corn snake into New Zealand.

Harrison Edward Sollis, 21, pleaded guilty to one charge of attempting to possess unauthorised goods, knowing they were unauthorised, when he appeared in the North Shore District Court earlier this week.

The charge was laid by the Ministry for Primary Industries after an investigation which began two years ago.

The court heard that Sollis, an Auckland student who keeps and breeds New Zealand and exotic reptiles, arranged for a contact in Sweden to post five veiled chameleons, one iguana, and one American corn snake to the address of a friend in Hillsborough in October 2014.

American corn snakes subdue their small prey by constriction. Photo / 123RF
American corn snakes subdue their small prey by constriction. Photo / 123RF

The package was intercepted by MPI staff at the Auckland International Mail Centre.

The snake was euthanized as a prohibited organism, an MPI spokeswoman told the Herald.

One chameleon had died en route and one sick chameleon was euthanised.

The three remaining chameleon and the iguana went into permanent quarantine at zoos.

When Sollis was interviewed by MPI investigators, he said he had always been interested in reptiles but denied ordering reptiles from overseas.

He applied for a discharge without conviction, on the grounds that a conviction would interfere with his studies in ecology and zoology and his subsequent career aspirations.

The presiding judge declined his application noting that Sollis' offending was too serious.

He was convicted and ordered to pay $15,000 towards the cost of the investigation.

Ministry for Primary Industries Northern region investigations manager Simon Anderson said the investigation involved a number of MPI staff and domestic and international agencies.

"Thanks to the dedication of the MPI staff involved in all aspects of this investigation a positive bio security outcome was achieved.

"This type of offending involved some potentially very serious ramifications for New Zealand's ecology, economy and international reputation.

"The risks associated with illegal importation of reptiles is two-fold. Firstly there is the risk of the species becoming established and devastating our native species. Secondly, there is the risk of parasites and pathogens that various species may bring with them."

Both could be catastrophic for the environment, he said.

"Snakes are totally prohibited in New Zealand and are specifically designated as prohibited under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act.

Anderson said any organisms not normally seen or detected in New Zealand needed to be reported to MPI.

Members of the public can contact MPI on 0800 80 99 66.

- NZ Herald

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