Public’s help needed as poachers hunt for wildlife to be trafficked internationally

Central Victorians are being asked to report suspicious activity amid concerns poachers are targeting granite outcrops in the region’s forests and parkland for international trade.

Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning acting senior wildlife officer Phuong Tran said native lizards including tree skinks and thick-tailed geckos were being mailed in the post to North America, Europe and Asia.

Wildlife could endure shocking conditions.

“They are stuffed into plastic packaging and posted through … Express Post and air freight,” Ms Tran said.

“They are being exposed to the extremes of heat and cold. They are being thrown around. A lot of these animals actually don’t survive. They die in transport.

“However, the high price the survivors can fetch means wildlife traffickers can make up the losses.”

Poachers often traded native lizards for exotic species, which enabled transactions to take place clandestinely, Ms Tran said.

Some reptiles could fetch a few thousand dollars depending on the rarity of the species, its patterning and the country it was sent to, she said.

Whether for international trade or not, people illegally taking wildlife often targeted granite outcrops where reptiles sheltered and nested under rocks.

They pulled up the rocks, leaving delicate habitats damaged.

Earlier this year a Broadmeadows man was caught lifting a rock at a granite outcrop in a nature conservation reserve close to Bendigo.

Twenty reptiles were discovered and seized along with animal husbandry equipment from his unlicensed premises.

The man pleaded guilty in the Magistrate’s court to 16 charges including the destruction of a wildlife habitat, possessing wildlife from the wild and animal cruelty. He was fined $4000 and ordered to pay $363 in legal costs to DELWP.

VIDEO: Someone in the Loddon Mallee region used a crowbar to lift a rock and expose this gecko; then, security vision used by investigators to help track the movements of a different man during a wildlife investigation. Source: CRIME STOPPERS

In mobile phone footage seized during another investigation, a person filmed a thick-tailed gecko lying between two scorpions. A scorpion struck at the gecko, which jumped and then ran away. The vision captured the end of a crowbar – a tool often used to shimmy rocks off of granite outcrops.

The footage was provided by Crime Stoppers and DELWP as a public awareness campaign took place.

Crime Stoppers general manager Cathy Rhodes said the organisations were partnering to help draw attention to poaching and help stop more animals being removed from the wild.

“We are asking the community to report to us if they know of anybody who is trafficking illegal wildlife,” she said.

Ms Tran urged people to keep an eye out for people out in parks and forests lifting up rocks.

“It might not look that suspicious but it is an illegal activity and a way people can access animals living underneath,” she said.

While some poachers used crowbars to lift rocks, others embraced common household items like knives and kitchen utensils.

They might also carry containers or pillow cases that could be used to move snakes and other reptiles out of native habitats.

Native wildlife in Victoria is protected by the Wildlife Act 1975. It is illegal to take protected wildlife without approval.

Penalties for taking or unlawfully possessing wildlife could be as high as $37,000 or 24 months in prison. Disturbing, damaging or destroying habitat could bring a maximum penalty of $7,750.

Anyone with information about trafficking should contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or visit the website.