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Children and parents asked to find hamsters



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FROM THE COMMONWEALTH MINISTER FOR HEALTH THE HON. M. J. R. MACKELLAR

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JOINT PRESS STATEMENT BY THE HON. M.J.R. MacKELLAR .M.P., COMMONWEALTH MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND THE HON. J.C. MOORE M.P., MINISTER FOR BUSINESS AND CONSUMER ___ AFFAIRS. . ___

children AND PARENTS ASKED TO FIND HAMSTERS

Children and parents throughout Australia are being

asked to help Quarantine and Customs Officers track down two varieties of rodents - hamsters and gerbils - which have been smuggled illegally into Australia.

The Minister for Health, Mr M.J.R. MacKellar and the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, Mr J.C. Moore, said

in a joint statement today that approximately 250 of the smuggled

animals had been seized along with a number of documents by

Customs and Quarantine Officers in Melbourne and Brisbane in a

combined operation carried out over the past two days.

It is estimated that approximately 600 of the animals

are at present in Australia. The Ministers said investigators had learnt that hamsters had been offered for sale in Queensland,

New South Wales and Victoria in the guise of cartoon characters

known as "Wombles".

However the animals, which were a prohibited import,

had been brought into the country without any health tests and could be carriers of serious diseases. The risk of rabies

and other diseases could not be entirely excluded.

The Ministers said that they deplored the actions

of irresponsible and unscrupulous people who by smuggling animals into Australia put the health and environment of the

country at risk.

The Ministers said they were especially concerned

because some of the animals could be kept as household pets.

The hamster eats grains, vegetables and fruit and

some species of small birds, and can pose a serious threat to . . . / 2

Australian plant industries. There are no natural predators

in Australia to prevent their unchecked spread.

The animals breed every two months and are known to

produce up to 60 offspring per year.

The Ministers asked anyone who had purchased a hamster or gerbil in the last four weeks to surrender it to

the local office of their Department of Agriculture or Primary Industries.

They stressed that the animals should not be released

and asked anyone who has information on the whereabouts of any of the animals, whether kept as pets or offered for sale,

to notify the Animal Quarantine Service in the various

capital cities the telephone numbers of which are listed below

NEW SOUTH WALES (02) 217 6666

VICTORIA (03) 651 7011

QUEENSLAND (07) 224 4135

SOUTH AUSTRALIA (08) 227 9911

WESTERN AUSTRALIA (09) 367 0111

TASMANIA (002) 30 8022

NORTHERN TERRITORY (089) 89 5511

NOTE: Hamsters and gerbils are both rat-like rodents but

have quite different physical characteristics. The variety

of hamster which has been seized in Australia is about 4 ins

long, white or gold coloured, with very large cheek pouches and almost no tail.

Gerbils have sandy coloured hair, long tail often with

a tuft of hair on it, and long hind feet.

CANBERRA 28 APRIL 1981