22 Aug 2018

Thousands of protected species seized at the border

10:21 am on 22 August 2018

More than 9000 wildlife products were seized at the New Zealand border last year - a 300 percent increase since 2011.


International Arrivals Photo: Supplied

The figures released by the Department of Conservation show shells and coral alongside elephant feet, primate skulls and chopped up seahorses, made up some of the 9078 seizures - most at Auckland International Airport in 2017.

According to the United Nations, profit made from the illegal wildlife trade rivals that of human trafficking, drugs and arms at around $8 billion to $10 billion a year.

Environmental policy analyst Fiona Gordon said New Zealand needed to do more to push back against the business.

"The numbers are increasing year on year but the question is what are we doing to stop these items actually coming to New Zealand in the first place."

"It's absolutely commendable that this stuff is getting confiscated at the border but we really need to be looking back up the chain to discover why people are boarding planes with these items when they shouldn't be."

Ms Gordon said a better understanding of who was bringing the goods in and why, would help DOC to educate travellers.

She said while some seizures were innocent tourist trinkets, others items were brought in deliberately for trade.

"What these figures are telling us is that there is a demand for these items within New Zealand. We can tell from the data who is bringing it in and it looks like about 60 percent of the incidents are related to citizens and New Zealand residents."

Approximately 5000 species of animal and 28,000 species of plant are protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) - to which New Zealand is party to.

The Department of Conservation, which enforces it, said New Zealand had some of the strictest regulation in the world.

National compliance manager Marta Lang Silveira said new species added to the CITES list in 2016, and an increase in visitor numbers, contributed to the rising figure.

Ms Lang Silveira said most of the items seized were innocent purchases by tourists.

However Ms Gordon said innocent or not, these purchases were still funding a billion dollar illegal market.

"If the product you've bought is a species that's been illegally sourced then in actual fact you're part of that broader chain anyway."

A CITES resolution, passed in 2016, called for the ban of domestic ivory trading markets however ivory can still be bought and sold in New Zealand.

Four years ago online auction house Trade Me decided it would no longer facilitate the sale.

Policy and compliance manager James Ryan said it was a good move.

"We didn't want to contribute to the problem so on that basis we banned the sale. We had an educational phase where members got time to learn, but since then we haven't had any issues with ivory being listed on the site - it's a really good result."

In October New Zealand will attend an international illegal wildlife trade conference in London.

DOC said it was unclear at this stage which matters New Zealand would engage with.

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