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Posts published in “Journalism Portfolio”

Ex-UN official appalled by NZ wildlife blunder

The dismantling of a New Zealand group which combatted wildlife crime has been described as “unfathomable” and a “blunder” by a former high-ranking international official.

The Wildlife Enforcement Group (WEG) consisted of an officer each from the Department of Conservation (DOC), Customs, and from what was the Ministry for Agriculture and Fisheries.

DOC estimates the WEG were responsible for 21 successful prosecutions against 28 defendants while they were operating. Six of these were high-profile arrests of international poachers and smugglers attempting to take New Zealand’s protected geckos.

Since the group was disbanded in 2012, no gecko smugglers have been arrested, despite evidence suggesting smuggling is an ongoing problem.

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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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Natural health products bill quietly scrapped

A bill designed to regulate the natural health products industry has been quietly withdrawn from Parliament before its third reading.

The Natural Health and Supplementary Products Bill was introduced 2011 by former Minister of Health, Dr Jonathan Coleman, and was intended to establish regulation for natural health products, including requiring evidence of efficacy.

In May this year, Winston Peters called the bill an “embarrassment” and said it was a bureaucratic double-up of a solution looking for a problem which would kneecap exporters.

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Police confirm agreement with spyware seller

Hacking spyware used by some of the world’s worst dictatorships may be in use in New Zealand.

The spyware, produced by Italian-based company, Hacking Team, is used by state agencies to monitor the communications of people of interest.

The Italian government was so concerned by the sale of spyware to countries with poor human rights it temporarily banned the company’s right to export.

New Zealand Police have confirmed to Newsroom in response to an Official Information Act request that they have signed a non-disclosure agreement with Hacking Team.

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South Auckland’s uncomfortable memorial

On a triangle of reserve in Ōtāhuhu stands a memorial to Colonel Marmaduke George Nixon. It has been there since 1868. Now, like other statues around the world, there are calls to remove it.

Former senior Labour official and activist, Shane Te Pou, has launched a petition urging Auckland Mayor Phil Goff to relocate the memorial to the Auckland Museum.

Te Pou told RNZ: “It should not be standing in memory of who I think was a thug.”

Nixon’s legacy is a bloody one, which historians say involved the killing of Māori women.

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Rare ‘apology’ ruling divides small NZ community

An unusual High Court ruling recommends a former school librarian and her husband send apology letters to members of a small South Island community to correct defamatory statements - or pay a fine of $100,000.

The defamatory statements were made in letters sent to around 50 Rai Valley residents after an employment dispute between the former librarian, Faye Leov, and former principal, Loretta [Muff] Newton, escalated to involve the local community.

The letters claimed Newton bullied Leov and others in the school, that she misled the school board, had been dismissed from her role and was mentally unwell.

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Three ways NZ can save its native geckos

When Fiordland National Park rangers arrived to feed Graham in mid July, they found a crime scene. The padlock to Graham’s terrarium was gone. So was Graham.

Graham the Marlborough green gecko was 30 years old, his home was a terrarium near the entrance to the Department of Conservation’s (DOC) Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre. He had outlived the other gecko in the terrarium and provided the sole reptilian welcome to visitors.

Like 76 percent of New Zealand reptiles, Graham faces the risk of extinction through habitat loss and predators. Poachers are an added pressure to gecko populations.

The theft of a lone gecko may not have rung alarm bells for authorities, but the discovery on August 11 of a duct-taped shut lunchbox with 58 native lizards jammed inside should. Of the geckos and skinks inside, only four were alive.

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Raoul Island Survivor – outweed, outplay and outlast

Halfway between New Zealand and Tonga lies a sub-tropical island paradise few will ever visit.

Pōhutukawa, with leaves twice as big as their mainland counterparts, cover the island.

Tui, parakeets and petrel populate the skies. The snorkelling is spectacular.

But the island is not open to the public and the lucky few who are allowed to visit and stay must first make it through a Survivor-style five-day "shakedown".

Every year a handful of people are selected by the Department of Conservation (DoC) to become Raoul Island rangers, who spend a year living on the island eradicating weeds.

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The impatient man bringing the future to New Zealand

When Steve West was young he dreamed of a future full of electric vehicles.

“I fell in love with the idea of them as a child. They were painted as the future in those futuristic books you used to get. You would know the future had arrived when you were driving electric cars.”

Now in his 40s, Steve’s  company, which develops electric car-charging infrastructure,  is propelling New Zealand back to the future of his childhood dreams.

West, the co-founder of DJ software company Serato, saw a glimmer of his childhood dreams when Tesla’s electric Roadster launched in the United States. It was a car West desperately wanted but could not get. At that stage Tesla was not interested in selling to New Zealand.

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Cop welcomes refugees with a smile

"They’re not the best jokes and I’m not a comedian, but it does break the ice.”

For refugees fleeing torture, harm or imprisonment in their home countries, ethnic liaison officer Constable Rob Stanton is the first face of the New Zealand police force they experience.

The three-hour presentation he gives to new refugees at the Mangere resettlement centre explains their legal rights and responsibilities in New Zealand.

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Is it a bird? Is it a bee? No, it’s NZ batman

While Bat Appreciation Day  may pass unnoticed in New Zealand (it is in April), you might be one of the lucky few whose backyard is home to bats (pekapeka).

Surprisingly long-tailed bats, a species listed as vulnerable, have been found roosting in the West Auckland neighbourhoods of Swanson, Henderson Valley, and Waitakere.

Once common, bat numbers have dropped significantly with one species thought to be extinct and the two remaining species listed as vulnerable and endangered.

Auckland Council’s Senior Biodiversity Advisor Ben Paris has been leading the charge in mapping where the shy bats can be found.

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