Penalties for Smuggling Illegal Wildlife in Australia

Image by ChameleonsEye.

Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.


The risky task of smuggling contraband across borders is not for the faint-hearted.

Indeed, smuggling isn’t the same as simply running your everyday errand – those who sign up to the challenge must concoct wild and whacky schemes to bring across their forbidden goods, often employing elaborate and highly creative tactics in the mix.

From hiding drugs inside meat mincing machines to concealing a human corpse by carrying around a body bag, even hanging a rare and expensive live fish around one’s neck, customs officers have just about seen it all.

For one woman though, the mission to smuggle contraband across borders – namely around 1,000 cacti and succulents from China into New Zealand – saw a much simpler (albeit somewhat painful) strategy of choice.

Alas, her scheme did not succeed given she was sprung by a detector dog on her arrival at Auckland International Airport, and as one would expect, went on to face sentencing for the offence.


March 2019: How Auckland Woman Went About Smuggling Cacti and Succulents in Bid to Outsmart Border Security

In March 2019, Wenqing Li, known as Wendy, who lives in Auckland, endeavoured to smuggle 947 cacti and succulents brought from China into New Zealand by placing them inside stockings and strapping them around her body.

Valuing at over $10,000 the plant collection included eight threatened and endangered species.

Unfortunately for the 38-year-old, as she arrived at Auckland International Airport, a sniffer dog detected the woman.

A nervous Ms Li then made a run for the bathrooms, where she disarmed herself of her cacti and succulent stash, dumping them in a toilet.

It is understood she intended to sell the prickly plants – which were assessed to have a “high commercial value” – on the online marketplace, TradeMe.

Indeed, this was not the first time Ms Li had found herself in trouble with the law.

In a separate incident in July 2019, the woman was discovered with 142 unauthorised seeds concealed inside commercially packaged iPad covers amongst her luggage.

She also had over 200 plant pots, one of which contained a snail, as well as garden ornaments wrapped in mouldy wet paper.


February 2021: Ms Li Sentenced in New Zealand for Biosecurity Violations Following Smuggling Incident

On Wednesday 3 February 2021, Ms Li faced Manukau District Court where she pleaded guilty to charges under two separate violations of biosecurity laws in her attempts to bring in plants from China.

The woman was sentenced to intensive supervision for 12 months and 100 hours’ community work for smuggling the endangered cacti and succulents into New Zealand.

In a statement from the Ministry for Primary Industries, regional team investigations manager, Simon Anderson, said the sentencing was “a good reminder that anyone who smuggles plants or other endangered species into New Zealand can expect to be prosecuted”.

“It’s important to remember that bringing unauthorised plants into the country by any method, whether smuggling through the border in person or receiving products by mail, puts New Zealand’s biosecurity at risk,” Mr Anderson continued.

“Our economy and way of life is dependent on keeping these threats out of the country.

“Biosecurity New Zealand takes its role of protecting New Zealand from biosecurity threats very seriously. Our country is fortunate to be free of many of the invasive pests and diseases found in other countries.”

The Department of Conservation, New Zealand Customs, and the Ministry for Primary Industries all work hand-in-hand on cases involving the trade in endangered species.

The bodies treat such cases as Ms Li’s as very serious offending, particularly when detected in New Zealand. 

Across Australia, the illegal wildlife trade is an industry that is thoroughly regulated.

This is because the import and export of wildlife trade is not only illegal, but where animals are concerned, smuggling them is also considered an act of cruelty.

In fact, many creatures do not survive the trip.

In Australia, the law on illegal wildlife trade is set out in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity conservation Act 1999.

Specifically, section 303EK of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 sets out that a person commits an offence if they import a specimen and if the specimen is a regulated live specimen – unless the specimen is imported in accordance with a permit that was issued under section 303GD of the same Act.

For an offence of this kind, the maximum penalty is 10 years in jail and a fine of up to $210,000, where the offender is an individual.

For corporations, the penalties are more substantial, with the maximum reaching a fine of up to $1,050,000.

About Criminal Defence Lawyers Australia

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