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Media Release
Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment and Heritage

20 December 1999


Federal Environment Minister Robert Hill has praised a joint Australian and United States investigation which has cracked an international reptile smuggling racket.

Senator Hill said the operation was exposed when Sydney-based Customs officers , acting on information from his department and the US Fisheries and Wildlife Service, intercepted a parcel of biscuit tins containing six baby pythons.

US authorities have since arrested a man for exporting the snakes, while investigations are continuing in Sydney after Customs officers executed a search warrant at the premises of the alleged importer.

Senator Hill commended the efforts of Environment Australia officers investigating the smuggling operation saying the baby pythons posed a serious risk to Australian reptiles.

"The snakes were contained in three biscuit tins in an air cargo consignment said to contain clothes, gifts and toys. They were identified as being endangered Indian Pythons (also known as Burmese Pythons) , which can grow up to seven metres long and weigh up to 100 kilograms.

"This species is known to carry Inclusion Body Disease which if released in Australia would have the same impact on native reptiles as Newcastle Disease has on poultry."

While most illegal wildlife imports are destroyed, Senator Hill has authorised for the pythons to be returned to the US. Courier company DHL Worldwide Express has generously offered to assist the Australian and United States governments in this shipment.

"While they do pose a risk to Australian wildlife if they escaped, they are nevertheless an endangered species deserving special protection and conservation."

Senator Hill said the seizure served as a warning to smugglers who if convicted face fines up to $110,000 and up to 10 years' jail.

"Australia is committed to upholding the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and we will continue working with other nations to ensure imports such as these are intercepted and those responsible are brought to justice," he said.

Further information:
Rod Bruem (Senator Hill) (02) 6277 7640 or 0419 258 364
Anne-Marie Delahunt (Environment Australia) (02) 6274 2240 or 0412 446 136

Commonwealth of Australia