Australian police bust native reptile smuggling ring

Sydney, Australia - An Australian-based criminal syndicate plotted to smuggle hundreds of native reptiles into Hong Kong as part of a murky trade in live animals, police alleged Monday.

Australian police found more than 250 lizards as well as other reptiles in a bust of an animal smuggling rung (stock image).
Australian police found more than 250 lizards as well as other reptiles in a bust of an animal smuggling rung (stock image).  © 123RF/tumskaia

Detectives began investigating the network in September last year, after intercepting nine packages bound for Hong Kong with 59 live lizards stashed inside.

They allegedly discovered more than 250 lizards after searching a number of properties scattered across Sydney, as well as a small number of snakes and unhatched eggs.

Police said the captured reptiles were "kept in poor conditions" before they were "bound in small containers" to be sold in Hong Kong.

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Photos taken by police showed writhing lizards piled on top of each other in small plastic bins filled with soiled pellets.

Another photo showed a snake curling around a clutch of eggs in a clear plastic tub packed with wood chips.

Each lizard could fetch as much as Aus$5,000 (US$3,360) on the black market, police said, giving the total seized haul a street value of as much as Aus$1.2 million.

Police have charged three men allegedly involved in the "criminal syndicate" – aged 59, 54, and 31 – as well as a 41-year-old woman.

Hong Kong is a major global transit point for the illegal trade in live animals, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Cover photo: 123RF/tumskaia

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