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Posted by W von Papinešu on March 23, 2003 at 18:47:08:
NEW ZEALAND HERALD (Auckland) 24 March 03 Officials seek jail for chameleon smuggler (Paula Oliver)
Biosecurity officials will push to have a Czech man jailed for illegally smuggling seven tiny chameleons into the country.
The 35-year-old university lecturer admitted carrying the creatures to Auckland in a temperature-controlled box inside his hand luggage on a flight from Prague.
He is due to be sentenced today in the Wellington District Court. It is understood that prosecutors will seek a jail term.
The man told Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry investigators that he had concealed the chameleons on his body at Auckland Airport because he did not want to kill them by throwing them into a disposal bin.
He had bred them himself, and believed they were free of disease and posed no threat to New Zealand.
After clearing the airport, he and a friend hired a car and drove to New Plymouth to a meeting with a local lizard enthusiast.
Investigators are satisfied that he gave the creatures to the collector as a gift.
They are less convinced by the man's claim that the chameleons posed no threat to local wildlife.
The possibility that the chameleons could be carrying a disease has led to their being kept in quarantine since their discovery.
MAF has contacted other countries to see if they will take the chameleons, and the inquiries are being described as "hopeful".
The risk of an illegal import through an airport has long been a focus for MAF, but at another potential entry point, mail, security is being tightened to cope with new threats.
The internet has sprouted a series of websites that offer to mail order anything from a tarantula to a python or a turtle.
The Herald found one American website proudly advertising a specials board that includes a bird-eating spider missing two legs - but they will grow back, it assures.
Auckland Airport operations manager Howard Webber said that people in New Zealand had tried to order animals via internet mail order.
The websites often guaranteed live delivery if the creature travels by courier.
Security needed to be tightened because while most of the mail entering New Zealand passed through a sophisticated screening system at the Auckland mail centre, not all courier packages did.
An Auditor-General's report late last year into biosecurity called the weak point a "seriously high biosecurity risk".
Mr Webber said work was under way to strengthen the security and protect the country from any incoming mail order pests.
He said MAF had been aware of the internet sales for some time because it had presented major problems in Hawaii.
MAF x-rays more than 50 million incoming international mail items a year. Its list of seized items include live goldfish in water, gourmet lizards, snakes and scorpions.