What the Law says about Illegal Wildlife Trade in Australia

By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.


When it comes to restricting the import and export of products, Australia is renowned for being tough at its borders.

Indeed, if you’ve ever watched an episode of Border Security, you’ll likely be familiar with not only the wealth of weird and wonderful items people have unashamedly attempted to smuggle through Australian airports, but also the tough penalties, including a lengthy jail sentence, for those who disobey the law.

Significantly, the import and export of animals is a heavily controlled area.

This is because wildlife trade is not only illegal, but smuggling animals is also considered an act of cruelty to the creature at hand, with many not surviving the trip.

Any criminal lawyer in Sydney or around the nation can tell you the serious consequences of doing this if caught, which carries heavy penalties and a criminal conviction.

In April 2019, a Japanese national was yet another person to fall victim to the law after she endeavoured to smuggle 19 native reptiles out of Australia.

The lizards were kept hidden in her suitcase.


X-Ray Reveals 17 Shingle Back Lizards and Two Blue Tongue Lizards in Mesh Packages in Woman’s Luggage

On 23 April 2019, a 27-year-old woman was arrested at Melbourne Airport after an x-ray revealed 17 shingle back lizards and two blue tongue lizards hidden in mesh packages amongst her luggage.

The lizards were seized by Australian Border Force (ABF) officers and referred to the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning to be taken care of before their eventual return to the wild or another appropriate home.

The smuggler was on her way back to Japan when ABF officers made the discovery after receiving a tip-off from Hong Kong.

Addressing the incident, Investigations Commander Graeme Gross said with the help of international cooperation once again, this was the third smuggling attempt the ABF was able to disrupt.

“Thanks to information provided by our international colleagues, we’ve now been able to foil three smuggling attempts across three states, all linked to the same syndicate,” Commander Grosse said.

“This is an incredibly cruel trade and the ABF will continue to do whatever we can to stop it.”


Reptiles Considered a “Lucrative” Trade Fetching Thousands of Dollars

Meanwhile, Chief Conservation Regulator at the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Kate Gavens, advised the trade of reptiles can be lucrative and attracts a number of syndicates who work within and outside of Australia.

According to her knowledge, in this instance, the attempted export could have fetched the syndicate upwards of $100,000.

“Reptiles can fetch quite considerable prices overseas in terms of trading. So, we certainly know for example that a Centralian blue-tongued lizard can command up to US$8,000 in Hong Kong,” Ms Gavens said.

“So, these are significant prices that these animals are getting overseas.”

The Chief Conservation Regulator also advised the smuggled lizards would be checked by a vet and potentially donated to schools.

“They will be checked by a vet and donated to schools and other not-for-profit organisations if they can’t be returned to the wild after the finalisation of the legal processes,” Ms Gavens said.


Protecting Wildlife Trade in Australia Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999

In Australia, the movements of animals, plants and products to and from Australia is regulated by the national environment law known as the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

The Act is in place to help protect the environment from risks associated with the international movement of wildlife.

Specifically, the Australian Government Department of the Environment advises the objectives of the Act are to:

  • Provide for the protection of the environment, especially matters of national environmental significance,
  • Conserve Australian biodiversity
  • Provide a streamlined national environmental assessment and approvals
  • Enhance the protection and management of important natural and cultural places
  • Control the international movement of plants and animals (wildlife), wildlife specimens and products made or derived from wildlife
  • Promote ecologically sustainable development through the conservation and ecologically sustainable use of natural resources
  • Recognise the role of Indigenous people in the conservation and ecologically sustainable use of Australia’s biodiversity
  • Promote the use of Indigenous peoples’ knowledge of biodiversity with the involvement of, and in cooperation with, the owners of the knowledge.

Along with meeting these objectives, the Act serves to ensure Australia meets its obligations under CITES – an international agreement between governments, aiming is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

In addition to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, the ABF continues to work closely with international and domestic partners to do everything possible to prevent the illegal and inhumane wildlife trade.

The Act also authorises the ABF and Customs officers to seize animals, plants and products that may have been brought to Australia illegally.

In Australia the penalties for illegal wildlife trade are severe. They include fines and imprisonment.

The Penalties for Illegal Wildlife Trade in Australia

Australia has strict laws when it comes to wildlife trade.

Section 303EK Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Clth) prohibits a person from importing a specimen if the specimen is a regulated live specimen.

Contravening this law will attract a maximum penalty of up to 10-years prison and/or $210,000 fine.

What is a ‘regulated live specimen’? This is a live animal or a live plant which is not included in Part 1 of the list outlined in section 303EB. A live animal includes an animal reproductive material, and a live plant includes a plant reproductive material.

Part 1 of the list outlined in section 303EB lists specimens suitable for live import.

Section 303GD also provide an exception to this law, where the specimen’s imported with a valid permit.

As these offences carry severe penalties if convicted, it’s recommended to get early advice from a criminal lawyer.

For advice on going to court yourself, see how to represent yourself in court or contact our friendly team of criminal lawyers who appear across all courts.

About Criminal Defence Lawyers Australia

Criminal Defence Lawyers Australia are Leading Criminal Defence Lawyers, Delivering Exceptional Results in all Australian Courts.

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