For a group of officers investigating animal trafficking, it appeared the proof was in the rice pudding as a collection of exceptionally rare reptiles were found being smuggled to China stuffed inside rice cookers. After spotting some unusual shadows in a shipment of rice cookers from 2018-2019, workers at the Brisbane International Mail Gateway Centre alerted the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS). Inspection of the six packages revealed 78 lizards with a street value of around $1 million all set for the black market.
Footage reveals how the QPWS carefully unwrapped the packages to find the reptiles with their legs tied to their bodies so they couldn’t move, concealed in cloth bags inside rice cookers. The captive animals were being shipped internationally from Australia to China for sale on the black market where such rare and exotic animals fetch between $3,000 and $5,000 per animal.
“The reptiles, which included an albino blue tongue, bearded dragons and shingleback lizards, had been placed inside socks or cloth packaging, with elastic binding their legs to their bodies, preventing them from moving,” said QPWS wildlife southern operations coordinator Warren Christensen in a statement. “Smuggling animals through international mail is extremely cruel. Not only are animals bound and packed tightly inside boxes, they have no access to food, water or clean air.”
Thanks to the vigilance of the Brisbane International Mail Gateway Centre scan operators, these reptiles were saved from becoming goods on the black market, but unfortunately they can never be returned to the wild. Without extensive knowledge of where the lizards came from and how they have been kept, the QPWS cannot know what, if any, diseases the animals have been exposed to or if they have ever been exposed to life in the wild.
“They will spend the rest of their days in captivity, taking part in breeding programs and educating the public about the illegal trade of wildlife,” said Christensen.
Following the discovery, a 28-year-old Taiwanese man was arrested in Victoria, Australia, and charged with 67 offenses, including aggravated cruelty to an animal, receiving a six-month prison sentence for his involvement.
The illegal trade of animals and animal parts is a global issue and one that poses a special threat to animals deemed suitable for use in traditional medicines. Earlier this year, the world’s most trafficked animal saw a small victory as pangolin scales were officially removed from the list of traditional medicine ingredients in China. A similar victory was also seen for three threatened shark species in Taiwan, where bycatch of megamouth, great white and basking sharks were banned following a spike in “bycatch incidents” which saw six megamouth sharks die in four days.