A large cow tooth hidden in an air passenger's handbag has resulted in a $400 fine at Queenstown Airport after the woman failed to declare her "lucky charm'.

After a biosecurity detector dog sniffed out the tooth last weekend, the woman's friend claimed the cow tooth was actually from a dog, and that she used it as luck charm when she flew.

Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) staff quickly recognised the tooth was from a cow and not from a dog, simply because "it looked way too big to be from a dog", said Andrew Spelman, Border Clearance Manager for Central and South Region.

Along with the fine the woman, from China, "had it explained to her that biosecurity was very important in New Zealand", said Mr Spelman.


"Under the worst case scenario the tooth could have been contaminated with foot-and-mouth disease, as China has had outbreaks of this virus in the past.

"It could have also been carrying diseases such as rabies, given its rural origin and the unknown circumstances of the cow's death."

Despite lying about the type of animal the tooth belonged to, an MPI spokesman said: "Here failing to declare the tooth seemed to be an unintentional mistake.

"If we thought she was trying to deliberately smuggle the tooth into New Zealand further actions, such as prosecuting, might have been taken."

In regards to the whereabouts of the tooth, it is likely to already have been destroyed.

"If we find something really quirky we might keep it for educational purposes, but here it has most likely been destroyed."