A Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) led intelligence-driven Operation Atco, that saw more than 600 illegally kept reptiles seized, has culminated in gaol time for the key perpetrator.
In Dandenong Magistrates Court, Magistrate Pauline Spencer was scathing in her assessment of the accused’s misconduct before convicting him, ordering destruction of his seized goods, and sentencing him to four months imprisonment.
This is the first time DELWP has initiated proceedings under the Wildlife Act that have resulted in an immediate term of imprisonment.
The accused has lodged an appeal, listed for March 2017 in the County Court of Victoria, and has been released on appeal bail.
Following DELWP Wildlife Officers’ search of properties in Pakenham and Frankston in August 2015, a 41-year old Officer man was charged with more than 30 offences, including multiple counts of possession of wildlife and keeping prohibited pest animals.
A 33-year old co-accused man from Frankston has also been charged on related offences but his case is yet to be heard in court.
DELWP Statewide Manager, Regulation and Compliance, Glenn Sharp, said: “The sentencing brought more than two years of intensive effort to fruition."
“The seizure of reptiles and charges laid followed nearly 12 months of monitoring and intelligence gathering by our officers. The hundreds of pythons and bearded dragons we seized had been bred in captivity by the accused, who deliberately in-bred species to create ‘desirable’ mutant traits in the reptiles.
“It is a privilege for Victorians to be able to legally keep, breed and trade reptiles under licence; and the accused flagrantly abused this privilege.”
The accused did not hold a wildlife licence, as it was revoked after he was found guilty of wildlife offences in 2009.
“Our investigators found the accused had been running a very calculated operation, conspiring to secretly house, breed and sell protected wildlife in pursuit of financial gain.”
“Whilst the majority of people endeavour to do the right thing, the community need to know that this illegal and selfish activity is occurring around them. Anything that seems to be ‘not quite right’ when it comes to wildlife keeping and trade should be reported to authorities.”
The reptiles seized included four exotic reptiles, two Parsons Chameleons and two Crested Geckos. These were euthanised to reduce the exotic animal disease risk posed to native wildlife from exotic animals that may have been sourced from overseas.
In October 2015, the Magistrate’s Court also ordered destruction of the native reptiles seized.
"This result sends a strong message to people who involve themselves in illegal wildlife trade and activity." Mr Sharp concluded.
Together with Environment and Climate Change Canada, INECE will be hosting a series of five discussions in early 2017 regarding performance measurement in the area of environmental compliance and enforcement.
INECE will be conducting a series of webinars that will provide a forum for interested environmental law enforcement professionals to discuss the best ways to measure performance in their shared field of work. These discussions will focus in particular on compliance and enforcement in pollution control.
Check the INECE website in early 2017 to find out the details regarding the webinars, and how you can participate in this program.