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Man faces tortoise trafficking charge.



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JOINT MEDIA RELEASE

Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage Senator Ian Campbell

Western Australian Minister for the Environment Dr Judy Edwards

Australian Minister for Justice and Customs Senator Chris Ellison

E110/04 6 August 2004

MAN FACES TORTOISE TRAFFICKING CHARGE A 24-year-old Western Australian man is expected to be charged with both State and Federal wildlife offences for attempting to sell endangered Star Tortoises over the Internet.

The Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Chris Ellison, said the detection was the result of excellent cooperation between Federal and State agencies involving the Australian Customs Service (Customs), the Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), and the WA Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM).

“This operation demonstrates how well all agencies work together to stop the trade in protected and endangered species,” Senator Ellison said.

The Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, said that Star Tortoises are listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Fauna and Flora because unregulated trade is a major threat to their survival.

The trade of CITES-listed animals is regulated in Australia under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

“It is likely the tortoises were illegally imported into Australia - most privately owned exotic animals in Australia are illegally imported or are the offspring of illegally imported animals,” Senator Campbell said.

Senator Ellison praised the skills of Customs officers who used advanced computer forensic analysis techniques to track the alleged offender.

Two Star Tortoises were located in the boot of a car. WA CALM, WA Police and Customs officers then conducted a series of searches on residential premises across Perth, locating a small number of Australian wildlife specimens and collection equipment.

Australia has some of the world’s strictest environment protection laws in the world, and the Australian Government recently established an Environment Investigations Unit to help implement them. The man faces a maximum penalty of up to $110,000 and/or up to five years in prison under the EPBC Act.

Western Australian Minister for the Environment, Dr Judy Edwards, said the uncontrolled importation and keeping of exotic reptiles posed a threat to native species through the introduction of diseases and the potential for them to become established in the wild. She called on Western Australians not to be tempted to keep prohibited exotic species because the demand created the market that resulted in the illegal trade. This trade frequently resulted in species becoming endangered in their natural environment.

Western Australian reptiles are fully protected and may not be taken from the wild without authority. The keeping of frogs and reptiles is regulated in WA so that populations in the wild are not put in jeopardy. Uncontrolled collecting and keeping will not be condoned.

“Wildlife smuggling poses a serious risk to the survival of many unique animals and plants,” Senator Campbell said. “It involves sophisticated operations, with networks of harvesters, propagators, keepers, breeders, and transporters. It is a notoriously cruel business.” Senator Ellison said 30 000 illegal wildlife imports and exports had been seized in the last seven years. “While many of these seizures have been small imports brought in by travellers for personal use, we have also focused our efforts on commercial activities that pose a great risk to species worldwide,” he said.

For further information on wildlife trade, visit http://www.deh.gov.au/biodiversity/trade-use/index.html. To report behaviour that may be linked to an attempted illegal import or export of flora or fauna, contact the Customs Hotline on 1800 06 1800.

Media contacts:

Senator Campbell’s Office: Wayne Grant (02) 6277 7640 or 0407 845 280 Senator Ellison’s Office: Simon Troeth (02) 6277 7260 or 0439 300 335