Wildlife smuggling is a major international problem, and the largest markets are Europe, North America, Japan and China. On the Internet, just about any animal can be obtained at the right price, and Australia’s many unique birds and animals are highly prized as pets. Some will go to wildlife parks and zoos.
Worldwide, the annual black-market trade in wildlife is worth more than $10 billion dollars, ranking just behind drugs and arms dealing. Criminals are being attracted to bird and animal smuggling by lighter penalties and big profits.
In Japan a shingleback lizard can sell for $4000, a turtle will get you $1400, and in the US. a galah can bring up to $2000, and a breeding pair of black cockatoos will fetch $56,000.
There is a huge amount of money to be made in this business, and yet the potential to be caught is minimal.
The Australian Crime Commission has linked wildlife trafficking from Australia with Asian syndicates illegally selling shinglebacks, blue tongue’s and skinks for up to $7500. Australian snakes and birds are also highly prized.
Due to the high death rate it is now more common for bird smugglers to traffic in concealed eggs rather than live birds, and at Australian airports smugglers are often caught wearing specially designed vests with small pockets for eggs.
Reptiles are much easier to keep alive during export. They can be forced into hibernation and survive for weeks in the mail.
Western Australia has more than two thirds of Australia’s reptile species, making it a prime target for international smugglers who simply take reptiles from the wild and mail them home.
Australia may have an abundance of birds and reptiles, but it’s a two-way traffic.
Locally there is a strong demand for exotic species brought into this country illegally for enthusiast s who have taken their hobby to a criminal level.
Exotic snakes and birds can bring in diseases that can wipe out our native species, and despite heightened security at our airports, and an increasing public consciousness of protecting our environment, those in the fight against wildlife smuggling have no doubt it will continue to flourish while penalties remain low and profits high.
In reality, most wildlife smugglers caught in Australia receive prison sentences under one year, face immediate deportation, or both, with fines that amount only to the value of one more trip to the bush.
In this country, the maximum penalty for wildlife smuggling is 10 years jail, a $100,000 fine or both, but this rarely happens.