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Disbanding of NZ wildlife group paves way for poachers

Half a world away from the calm of New Zealand’s forests and the meeting rooms of slow-moving government agencies, a map of New Zealand is displayed for thousands to see. Marked on the map are the locations of New Zealand’s protected geckos.

The map is on show at the German fair Terrarstika, the biggest reptile fair in the world. Tables in the trade hall are piled high with plastic boxes containing lizards and snakes for sale. Hundreds of deals are done at the fair, some openly in the trade hall, others surreptitiously in the carpark.

There is an underbelly to the reptile trade and an expert source says New Zealand’s protected geckos are squarely in the sights of corrupt overseas dealers.

“Anything that is a little rare won’t be on the tables on display. That will be in the boot of someone’s car in the carpark and the deal will be done out there. What you see on the tables when you go into those fairs are all the legitimate stuff that anyone can trade in. The hot stuff is not on display, it’s elsewhere.”

The source, who does not want to be named, said New Zealand used to have a successful group dedicated to catching smugglers. The Wildlife Enforcement Group (WEG), disbanded in 2012 to the bewilderment of many, has not been replaced.

“It’s just crazy. Now we’ve got nothing.”

When asked by email if poachers know the group is no longer functioning, the source’s reply comes punctuated with a laughing emoticon.

“Of course they know.”

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