Joint media release: Jail time for insidious wildlife traffickers

20 February 2021

The Hon Sussan Ley MP, Minister for the Environment
The Hon Jason Woods MP, Assistant Minister for Customs, Community Safety and Multicultural Affairs

The NSW District Court has sent a clear signal to those involved in the insidious and illegal trade of native and exotic wildlife this week with the sentencing of a 33-year-old man to five years in prison and a 30-year-old woman to a two-year intensive corrections order.

Mr Zheyuan Qiu and Ms Ut Lei Lei attempted to smuggle 17 packages containing 45 native reptiles through the post to Hong Kong and Taiwan while also illegally holding species listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and regulated natives at their residence.

Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley welcomed the sentences, which followed a two-year investigation by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment into criminal syndicates involved in the smuggling of Australian native wildlife.

“This sentence sends a message to wildlife smugglers: you will be caught, you will be punished,” Minister Ley said.

“The details of this case are horrendous and unfortunately all too common. Since October 2019, there have been six sentences for wildlife trafficking, totalling more than 10 years in jail time.

“Native Australian reptiles are highly sought after overseas in what is a dangerously lucrative market supplying ventures such as overseas pet shops that exclusively sell Australian reptiles.”

Australian Border Force officers seized and detected several parcels bound for overseas addresses in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The two offenders attempted to export a range of reptiles including Shingleback and Blue-tongue lizards, a Red-bellied black snake, carpet and diamond pythons as well as two species of turtles.

The court noted the grave seriousness of the matter was reflected in the penalty applied given the undue cruelty with which the animals were kept and handled. The reptiles were bound by items such as black stockings and concealed in speakers, toys and other household items.

Assistant Minister for Customs, Community Safety and Multicultural Affairs Jason Wood said wildlife crime is a global problem that requires coordinated domestic and international enforcement capabilities to disrupt.

“Wildlife crime has transformed into one of the largest transnational organised criminal activities in the East Asia and Pacific region, generating an estimated $25 billion annually,” Minister Wood said.

“A collaborative approach with our international law enforcement partners has led to increased detections and prosecutions of the criminal syndicates behind this callous enterprise.”

Qiu and Lei Lei were arrested by Environmental Crime Investigators on 23 January 2020 after a search warrant was executed at their Belmore address where a further 205 reptiles, including lizards, snakes and turtles were found.

Their case follows the sentencing last year of a 26-year-old man to three years jail for similar wildlife smuggling offences.

Each count under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 is deemed serious and indictable, with the maximum penalty being imprisonment for 10 years and/or a $210,000 fine.