Australia's unique native species, particularly birds and reptiles, are targets of the international illegal wildlife trade, causing thousands of deaths every year.

What is the illegal wildlife trade?

The international illegal wildlife trade is a multi-billion dollar industry involving millions of individual specimens.

Wild animals are traded alive to be kept as pets or put on display, or killed to be used in traditional medicines or as ornaments, or eaten as exotic foods.

It is not just the buying and selling of wild creatures that is so dreadful. Many of them die during attempts to capture them. Others die due to tight confinement while being smuggled. Those that survive the transport often die of fear, stress and disease. (Please see What is the illegal wildlife trade and why is it inhumane? - RSPCA website, October 2019.)

One smuggler told an undercover cop that a snake worth $300 in Australia can be sold for $3,000 overseas. Shingleback lizards can fetch 10,000 Euros.

What laws cover the illegal wildlife trade?

The federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) regulates the import and export of wildlife under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), while individual states have laws on keeping wildlife within their borders.

It is illegal to export a living Australian native mammal, reptile, bird or amphibian to another country for a commercial purpose, such as to sell it.

Some movements of wildlife are allowed, but a permit is usually required.

Permits for importing or exporting wildlife specimens

Under section 303 of the Act, importing or exporting a regulated specimen without a permit can lead to ten years in jail, a $220,000 fine, or both.

Possessing an illegal specimen has a penalty of five years in jail. Lying on a permit application can get you two.

It is vital for the survival of species that we do whatever we can to eliminate the illegal wildlife trade. Everyone should be looking out for people acting suspiciously in the bush tracking wildlife, or those who may try to export or import without a permit.

Couple jailed over illegal wildlife export

In 2021 a married couple was convicted for trying to post carpet pythons, shingleback lizards, skinks and water dragons to addresses in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

They hid them in speakers and toy trucks with their limbs taped together, used several different post offices over two years and gave false consigner details. The parcels were intercepted by Australia Post. At their home police found 105 animals intended for illegal export, including a deadly red-bellied black snake.

The couple faced up to ten years in jail, but after an early guilty plea the man was imprisoned for five years and the woman received a three year intensive corrections order.

In another case, an ex-NRL player received a four year jail sentence for wildlife smuggling - but that penalty was only handed down on appeal after a lower court gave the man a more lenient sentence.

Nathan Stack
Criminal law
Stacks Law Firm

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