A property at Grenfell in the state’s southwest has been searched and a man charged as part of a statewide police investigation into the alleged attempted export of over $1 million worth of Australian native lizards and reptiles to Hong Kong.
Four lizards were found in bags at the property late last week by Raptor Squad detectives.
Strike force offers had conducted an earlier search at various addresses, including a property in East Hills in Sydney, where 118 lizards, three snakes, eight eggs and 25 deceased lizards were located.
The 31-year-old man was arrested in East Hills by strike force officers on Friday, 5 January.
He was taken to Bankstown Police Station where he was charged with dealing in or attempting to deal in protected animals, dealing with property proceeds of crime less than $100,000 and participating in a criminal group.
It was during a subsequent search of the property in Grenfell that police located the additional four lizards hidden in bags.
The man was refused bail and appeared in Parramatta Local Court on Saturday (6 January).
Strike Force Whyaratta was established in September 2023 by State Crime Command’s Raptor Squad – with assistance from the Federal Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water and NSW Department of Planning and Environment – to investigate illegal native animal and reptile exports after nine packages containing 59 live lizards were intercepted on their way to Hong Kong.
Over the course of the investigation – during both search warrants and package intercepts – officers located 257 lizards, which were taken to various zoos and wildlife parks for examination by a vet before being released back to the wild.
Police will allege in court the criminal group was catching live lizards and native Australian reptiles to export for profit to Hong Kong.
The animals were kept in poor conditions and bound in small containers when they were packaged to be sent.
Police first arrested a 41-year-old woman on 20 December 2023 after executing a search warrant at an address in Pendle Hill following extensive inquiries.
The woman was taken to Granville Police Station where she was charged with six counts of export regulated native specimen without permit/exemption. She was granted conditional bail to appear before Parramatta Local Court on Tuesday, 23 January.
At about 2:05 pm on Thursday, 28 December, strike force officers then executed a search warrant in Pendle Hill where they arrested a 54-year-old man.
He was taken to Granville Police Station where he was charged with four counts of exporting regulated native specimens without a permit/exemption, dealing with property proceeds of crime < $100000 and participating in a criminal group.
The man was refused bail and appeared in Parramatta Local Court on 29 December 2023. He was granted conditional bail to reappear at the same court on 16 January.
During subsequent search warrants in Pendle Hill, police located 16 native lizards and eggs in a box addressed to Hong Kong. A further 60 native lizards were located in a storage room.
At about 1:30 pm on 29 December 2023, strike force officers stopped a vehicle in Panania and arrested the driver, a 59-year-old man.
He was taken to Bankstown Police Station where he was charged with 13 offences, including knowingly directing activities of a criminal group, one count of exporting a regulated native specimen without permit/exemption, 11 counts of attempting to export a regulated native specimen without a permit/exemption, and dealing with property proceeds of crime less than $100,000.
The man was refused bail and appeared before Parramatta Local Court on 30 December 2023. He will appear at Wyong Local Court on 17 January.
Police will allege in court that the criminal group was catching live lizards and native Australian reptiles to export to Hong Kong for profit. The animals were kept in poor conditions and bound in small containers when they were packaged to be sent.
Based on an average of $5000 per lizard, the total value of reptiles seized by police is approximately $1.2 million.