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Native Plants Stolen From Conservation Areas

27 February 2004

Native Plants Stolen From Conservation Areas

Two Czech men, one of them a government official and the other a University professor, were today convicted and fined in the Manukau District Court for smuggling New Zealand native orchids and taking plants from conservation areas.

The men had illegally collected about 350 specimens of native plants from national parks and other conservation areas in New Zealand.

Mr Jindrich Smitak, an inspector in the Czech Government environmental protection agency, and Mr Cestmir Cihalik, a professor of cardiology from a Czech university, were both fined $7,500. They were also ordered to pay $1000 each toward prosecution costs, and a further amount toward court costs.

The men were charged under the Trade in Endangered Species Act, which prohibits trade in all New Zealand native orchids and can carry penalties of up to a $100,000 fine and five years imprisonment, and the National Parks Act, under which offenders can be fined up to $2500 and imprisoned for three months.

In passing sentence, Judge Sharon McAusian commented that had the Department of Conservation been able to prove the plants were destined for sale and commercial gain, she would have had no hesitation in sending the men to jail.

Department of Conservation investigator Toni Twyford, who took part in the Wildlife Enforcement Group investigation of the case, said the men had collected a considerable number of native plant specimens in the three weeks they were in the country.

"Between them they had 83 individual native orchid plants from 22 species and Mr Smitak had about 37 specimens of other native plants taken from national parks.

"Other specimens, that included native sedges and ferns, were probably collected from a number of conservation areas around the country," he said.

Mr Twyford said it was of concern that a range of native plants, as well as orchids, were being targeted.

It's illegal to take native plant material from conservation land without a permit. Under the Conservation Act individuals can be fined up to $10,000 and be imprisoned for up to 12 months for taking plants from conservation areas.

The public can help stop plant and wildlife smuggling by reporting suspicious activity in national parks and reserves.

Wildlife smuggling is a growing problem worldwide and ranks third in earnings behind narcotics and gun running. Globally the trade is estimated to be about $US7 billion a year.

New Zealand's Wildlife Enforcement Group (WEG), an agency of representatives from Customs, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and DOC, is recognised as a world leader in its 'whole of government' approach to fighting wildlife crime.

WEG was set up 10 years ago to investigate flora and fauna smuggling in and out of New Zealand.


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