In a significant crackdown on illegal reptile exports, the Whyaratta Strike Force, part of the anti-biker Raptor Squad in Australia, has successfully thwarted a “cold-blooded and cruel” criminal group attempting to smuggle native lizards and other reptiles worth AU$1.2 million ($808,000) from Sydney to Hong Kong.
Four individuals have been charged in connection with the alleged plot, where the perpetrators sought to conceal hundreds of reptiles, primarily lizards, in small chip packets and handbags.
The New South Wales state Police Force revealed on Monday that 257 reptiles were released following the operation, emphasizing the highly sought-after nature of the species. Police estimate that each reptile could fetch an average of 5,000 Australian dollars ($3,365) on the black market, bringing the total value of the protected species to over AU$1.2 million ($808,000).
The rescued reptiles have been handed over to various zoos and wildlife parks, where veterinarians will conduct examinations before releasing them into their natural habitat.
Detective Superintendent Andrew Koutsoufis condemned the alleged smuggling operation, describing it as “cold-blooded and cruel.” The Whyaratta Strike Force, dedicated to investigating illegal reptile exports, was established in September last year following the interception of nine packages containing 59 lizards en route to Hong Kong.
During the recent arrests made between December 20 and last week, three men and a woman, aged between 31 and 59, were taken into custody at various locations in New South Wales. They face charges related to the illegal smuggling operation.
The successful disruption of this criminal group highlights the ongoing efforts of Australian authorities to combat wildlife trafficking and protect endangered species from exploitation.