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Minister for the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts 2001-2004

The Hon Dr David Kemp, MP

 

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Media Release
Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Dr David Kemp

28 March 2004

Australians warned to hand in illegal reptiles


Australians who own exotic reptiles have just eight weeks to voluntarily surrender their animals to protect our environment under a new national amnesty.

Launched at Melbourne Zoo by Australian Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Dr David Kemp, the National Exotic Reptile Amnesty is a joint project with all States and Territories, beginning tomorrow and running through until 24 May 2004.

The possession of illegally imported exotic reptiles is an offence under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999 . Illegal possession can incur up to 5 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $110 000.

“This amnesty is not about licensing the keeping of exotic reptiles, it is about reducing the number of illegal exotic reptiles privately owned in Australia. The lack of anti-venene for venomous species makes some exotic reptiles an extreme risk to humans, and they can become pests or carry diseases which devastate our unique flora and fauna,” Dr Kemp said.

“Efforts will be made to place the surrendered reptiles with zoos and other institutions where they can be used for educational or conservation purposes. Reptiles that cannot be placed will be subject to humane euthanasia in accordance with best practice animal welfare.

“Exotic reptiles should not be released into the wild as this could lead to the death of the animal from exposure and starvation, or the introduction of new diseases or pests. Surrendering exotic reptiles is the responsible thing to do.”

Most privately owned exotic reptiles in Australia are usually illegally imported or are the offspring of illegally imported animals. People who voluntarily surrender their exotic reptiles to authorized officers during the amnesty can remain anonymous and will not be prosecuted for possession, unless a serious degree of criminality is indicated.

“The amnesty is not intended to protect people who have intentionally broken the law, but those who have inadvertently done so. While most people know that importing an animal without permission is illegal, many are unaware that owning illegally imported animals is also an offence, even if they did not import the animal themselves,” Dr Kemp said.

“Australia has some of the world's strictest environment protection laws in the world, but despite our best efforts, some exotic animals are still illegally smuggled into Australia and people who purchase illegally imported exotic animals encourage this trade.

“Wildlife smuggling involves sophisticated operations, with networks of harvesters, propagators, keepers, breeders, and transporters operating across national and international borders. It is a notoriously cruel business and smuggled animals suffer stress, dehydration, or starvation, while many die in transit.

“We are committed to stamping out the illegal trade in exotic reptiles and after the amnesty, authorities will be cracking down on illegal possession, so not taking advantage of the amnesty will greatly increase the risk of prosecution in the future.”

For more information on the amnesty or to find out how to surrender an exotic reptile call 1800 684 447 or visit www.deh.gov.au/exoticanimalguide/amnesty/. High resolution images are also available from the above web site.


Impact of exotic reptiles - fact sheet


Exotic reptiles can have a devastating impact on the Australian environment and public.

Exotic reptiles can bring diseases into Australia, which can spread to wild populations with harmful consequences to our native species who have no built-in immunity. For example, the Inclusion Body Disease, which occurs mostly in pythons and boas, manifests itself with paralysis, inability to strike or constrict, extreme weight loss and respiratory infections. It is highly contagious, untreatable and always fatal.

Venomous exotic reptiles can also be a serious threat to humans. While bites are likely to happen, no matter how competent the handler, there are significant problems in treating venomous exotic reptiles bites. Australian medical staff are generally untrained in, and lack medical knowledge of the effects of exotic reptiles bites. Antivenene is species-specific and often scarce, and identification of the exotic species is difficult. This means that bites from exotic species, which can cause loss of limb and sometimes death, are often untreatable.

The Australian climate is optimal for many exotic reptiles, and if they escape, or their owners tire of looking after them and release them, exotic reptiles can establish themselves in the wild and become pests themselves. Introduced pests such as rabbits and cane toads already cost millions each year and are the cause of serious harm to the environment and native species. Some exotic reptile species threaten native species with their aggressiveness and ability to out-compete and displace native species from their natural environment. Once established, it is very difficult to eradicate feral populations of exotic animals.

The Pond Slider Turtle (including the Red-eared Slider Turtle, which is rated as one of the worst 100 feral invaders around the world by the World Conservation Union) is an example of an exotic reptile with established localised feral populations in the Australian bush. It is believed the Pond Slider Turtle, which grows to about 30 centimetres and can live to 40 years, was released into the wild and while native turtles and small fish often live in farm dams, they are completely absent in dams where populations of the Pond Slider Turtle are established.

It is an offence under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 to be in possession of an illegally imported exotic reptile (or its offspring). The penalty for illegal possession is imprisonment of up to 5 years and/or a fine of up to $110 000.

Commonwealth of Australia