Australia is both a source and destination country for illegal wildlife trade,
particularly the trade in live animals to be used as pets. High demand from
reptile and pet collectors in Europe and North America, and increasing demand
in China, Japan and other Asian countries, is intensifying pressure on
Australian wildlife. Over 80 percent of Australian flora and fauna are endemic
(Alacs, 2008). Wildlife
seizures have been increasing in Australia, with lizards, snakes and other
reptiles making up the majority of animals seized alive (Wyatt, 2013)
Australia, a multitude of actors engage in wildlife trafficking. This includes
criminals acting undercover in the legal wildlife industry, opportunists and
overseas syndicates, some acting alone
or in small semi-organised groups.
specificity and variety of wildlife involved in seizures suggests that wildlife
is illegally procured by specialist hunters to fulfil specific orders from
local collectors, dealers and overseas syndicates. Unscrupulous licensed
wildlife breeders launder wild-caught animals though their facilities and
illegally export “designer breeds”, including morphs of common species.
syndicates likely interact with urban dealers who direct poaching activities and coordinate with unscrupulous
breeders, consolidating wildlife for packaging and onward shipment via mail or
air passenger luggage.
Australia’s largest seizure of illegal
wildlife occurred in April 2018 and included 198 reptiles, 58 venomous snakes,
16 marsupials, two spiders and three cockroaches across various species. This illustrates the
breadth of wildlife targeted by traffickers.
receive payments for wildlife with transactions in the thousands of dollars
either via wire or through bank transfers, and in some cases barter Australian
species for other exotic species. The criminals hide money in overseas accounts
and launder illicit proceeds through front companies. As in wildlife crime more
generally, repeat offenders are common, even after multiple convictions.
Australia, the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and
Communities oversees the CITES permit system. All import and export of wild
animals is prohibited without a licence, and a permit system is in place for
captive breeding and native flora collecting and growing (Wyatt, 2013). In addition, states and
territories have their own system of licensing, enforcement and sentencing of
strong laws exist, in practice custodial sentences have typically been rare and
fines are often less than the value of wildlife seized (Wyatt, 2013; Alacs, 2008). Wildlife
traffickers take advantage of varying legislation and lack of enforcement to
get away with smuggling wild animals.
According to multiple studies, wildlife crime in Australia remains a low
priority, typically perceived as related to individual transgressions, not as
an organised crimeThe following infographic offers a simplified
view of the pet trafficking chain between Australia and Asia.
Syndicates recruit couriers to
smuggle wildlife in air passenger luggage and use mail services to directly
ship wildlife to destination points soon after capture. Traffickers may use
addresses at hotels to avoid having wildlife sent to their homes. When trading wildlife as “legal” goods, traffickers
falsify documentation to facilitate import and export of wildlife. Unsurprisingly, most wildlife seizures occur at airports and mail centres
and during raids (