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Inter-agency co-operation at its best

For immediate release 28 September 2001

Inter-agency co-operation at its best

The New Zealand Customs Service, the Department of Conservation, and the Ministry of Fisheries combined forces this week in a joint exercise designed to test the strength of inter-agency co-operation, to foil would-be smugglers.

The controlled exercise, which ran over four days, was based on a scenario to smuggle a predator onto Codfish Island, and smuggle a kakapo off. The three departments tested their ability to pool their resources to plan, identify, surveil, intercept, and interview any offenders and witnesses in relation to the scenario.

Inter-agency training is essential to ensure the agencies understand each other’s roles and responsibilities, and to develop successful plans for working together.

“Several risk areas for the DOC are identical to the risk areas of other Government departments,” says Felicity Heffernan, National Compliance and Law Enforcement Co-ordinator for the Department of Conservation, “therefore the inter-agency work makes logical sense. In remote locations the use of joint resources equals effective wildlife protection and compliance and law enforcement.”

Peter Younger, Wildlife Enforcement Group says “The trade in endangered species is increasing world-wide, and the kakapo is one of the most endangered parrot species in the world. Keeping islands predator free is essential for the survival of many endangered species.”

“The exercise demonstrated why we actively seek to deploy new technologies that aids efficiency. Savings in time, energy and resources can be achieved from inter-agency models,” says Maurice O’Brien, Team Leader of the Sierra unit, NZ Customs.

“For Customs the ability to support DOC on these exercises only enhances our own skills in the policing of wildlife smuggling,” says John Secker, Customs National Manager – air and marine. “This exercise has capitalised on high risk areas for unlawful craft movement, the threat of which is a key responsibility of Customs in it’s border policing.”

“The Department of Conservation seeks to carry out its statutory functions in a nationally consistent and effective way, and it’s a privilege to use inter-agency to do this” says Ms Heffernan.

“In the end”, says Mr Secker, “we’re all working together to protect the things that make New Zealand unique.”

- ends -

For further information, please contact:
Customs Communications Manager Janice Rodenburg (04) 4620317 OR
Department of Conservation Media Liaison, Sue McCabe (04) 471 3117

Operation Moonlight

Q. What is the legislative authority for the policing of wildlife smuggling?
A. Under the Trade and Endangered Species Act 1989 – which covers endangered, threatened and exploited species and products made from them, and the Wildlife Act 1953 – which covers birds other than domestic birds and other wildlife, Customs and the Department of Conservation, together, have the power to apprehend and prosecute smugglers.

Q. What are the benefits of inter-agency exercises?
A. The Government regards inter-agency operations as more efficient and cost-effective for the taxpayer than having agencies working entirely separately. Training is essential to ensure the agencies understand each other’s roles and responsibilities and develop successful plans for working together. Preparation is 9/10 of success rather than just simply showing up and expecting to be able to carry out a major operation.

Q. How common is this type of inter-agency co-operation?
A. In the last 4 – 5 years this type of activity has increased. A leading example of inter-agency co-operation can be seen in The Wildlife Enforcement Group (WEG). WEG comprises specialist staff from the Customs Service, Department of Conservation, and Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. It provides a successful joint enforcement approach to the illegal trafficking of wildlife as set out in the Convention on International Trafficking in Endangered Species (CITES).

Q. So is WEG connected to Operation Moonlight?
A. In a way, yes. WEG can be seen as the ‘investigative’ arm of wildlife protection, and this operation is forming a team to act as the ‘response’ arm of wildlife protection.

Q. What are the main areas of responsibility in Operation Moonlight for Customs?
A. The main area of responsibility for Customs is the supply of personnel and intelligence. Officers will be present through every phase of the operation, helping train teams from other government departments.

Q. What is DOC's role?
A. The Department of Conservation is the government agency responsible for conserving the natural and historic heritage of New Zealand. It manages national and forest parks, reserves and conservation areas, protected indigenous forests, inland waters and wild and scenic rivers, indigenous/native wildlife, non-commercial freshwater fisheries, historic places on conservation land, marine reserves, protects marine mammals, and maintains offshore islands set aside for conservation. For more information on DOC visit

Q. Why is it important to keep pests off island sanctuaries such as Codfish?
A. Predator free island sanctuaries are very important to DOC so endangered and protected species are safe from predation by cats, dogs, rats, and stoats. DOC has spent large amounts of government resources to rid these islands of pests. It is important part of effective protection to maintain that pest-free status, and that includes training in how to counter the risk of a deliberate release of a pest to an island.

Q. Why are kakapo so important?
A. The kakapo is a critically endangered species as there are only 62 known birds - all in New Zealand. DOC runs the Kakapo Recovery Programme to help ensure the survival of the bird, commonly known as the night parrot. Comalco sponsors the recovery programme through the Threatened Species Trust. For more information on the kakapo and the programme visit

Q. Why are they on Codfish Island?
A. Kakapo exist on two islands - Maud, in the Marlborough Sounds, and Codfish/Whenua Hou. These islands have the pest free status necessary to avoid creatures like stoats and rats decimating the kakapo population. Earlier this year all the adult females of breeding age on Maud Island were transferred to Codfish/Whenua Hou because the recent heavy fruit development on rimu trees indicates the conditions will be conducive for a good breeding season in the South. A total of 46 kakapo are currently on Codfish/Whenua Hou.


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