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Joint Media Release
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Dr David Kemp
Minister for Justice and Customs
Senator Chris Ellison

2 October 2003

Record Seizure of Endangered Species

Australia's biggest ever seizure of illegally imported traditional medicine products made from threatened wildlife has been made in Sydney in a joint intelligence and enforcement operation by the Department of Environment and Heritage and the Australian Customs Service.

"As a result of excellent targeting work by Customs, Customs officers examined two shipping containers which had arrived in Sydney in the first week of September and discovered 160 kilograms of illegally imported wildlife products. In further searches of a residential property and a warehouse, officers from Customs and the Department of Environment and Heritage found body parts from endangered tiger, snake and rhinoceros, and other plants and animals," the Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Chris Ellison said.

"These endangered species are all used in traditional medicines," the Minister for Environment and Heritage, Dr Kemp said.

"Officers found 40 kilograms of Pangolin scales, taken from an estimated 120 animals. The Pangolin, or Scaly Anteater, is under threat in Asia from the pressure of hunting. We also found approximately 120 kilograms of Saussurea costus, an endangered plant species that is used in herbal medicines."

"These are species listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), as unregulated trade is a major threat to their survival."

The Ministers said the operation was an example of excellent agency cooperation.

"Since 1999, the Australian Government has seized more than 17,000 illegal wildlife imports and exports, but the vast bulk of them have been small imports brought in by travellers for personal use.

This successful seizure of large commercial quantities should serve as a warning that the Australian Government is committed to eliminating the illegal trade in commodities made from endangered species. The worldwide trade in wildlife is estimated at millions of dollars and, if it is undertaken in an illegal and unregulated manner, poses a serious risk to the survival of many unique animals and plants."

Investigations are continuing into the seized products. Charges for offences under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 are expected to be laid shortly. The maximum penalties for an individual caught breaching Australia's wildlife trade and protection laws are a fine of up to $110,000 and up to 10 years in prison.

"The Australian Government's environment, Customs and law enforcement officers will continue to police our strict wildlife trade laws. We are determined to protect threatened species here and overseas, and to ensure the elimination of the illegal trade in wildlife," Dr Kemp said.

Commonwealth of Australia