Illegal wildlife trade in Australia – Criminal Law

If you’ve ever watched an episode of Border
you’ll surely recall the whacky wildlife
travellers have attempted to casually smuggle across national

From rare types of fish to baby turtles, smugglers are
relentless in their trafficking endeavours, leaving border security
officers startled, but certainly not surprised.

One such case that captured media outlets this year was an
incident at Vienna airport which saw dozens of protected chameleons
discovered inside a suitcase.

And while the offender thought he may get away with the act
given the creatures are known for their camouflaging competence, he
was indeed unable to outsmart the x-ray machine.

The finding took place in January 2021 and the smuggler a
56-year-old man, who was not identified by police.

As the man went to leave the baggage area, officials swiftly
intercepted, believing there to be living animals inside his

Indeed, some 74 chameleons were found within the suitcase,
hidden in socks and boxes.

“It quickly emerged that the suitcase contained living
creatures which, while they would have been well camouflaged in a
natural environment, ultimately did not outwit the X-ray
machine,” authorities said in a statement.

The man was arrested and faced fines of up to 6,000 euros,
according to the Austria’s Finance Ministry.

The Ministry also advised that the protected chameleons had been
intended for sale in the neighbouring Czech Republic, while on the
black market, the creatures would have sold for about 37,000 euros
– almost $60,000 in Australian currency.

Meanwhile, the chameleons were “immediately
transported” to the Austrian capital’s Schönbrunn
Zoo, which said that two of the creatures had already died on the
way to Vienna.

The rest were nursed back to recovery in proper terrariums where
environmental conditions were provided to meet their needs.

“The reptiles are now housed in terraria which fulfil their
specific needs, including high levels of ground moisture and an
airy and cool environment,” authorities said.

It is understood the chameleons were from the Usambara Mountains
in Tanzania – where the offender had travelled from – and ranged in
age from one week old to adults.

Austrian Finance Minister, Gernot Blümel, addressed the
matter and said the work carried out by customs was crucial to both
impeding traffickers and the welfare of the animals.

“The vital work undertaken by customs also regularly
assists in ending the suffering of animals and putting a stop to
unscrupulous wildlife traffickers,” Austrian Finance Minister Blümel

“Customs Administration not only ensures the protection of
Austrian businesses and consumers, but it makes an indispensable
contribution to animal welfare and the preservation of endangered
species too.”

Chameleons are an extremely unique branch of the lizard group of
reptiles and vary across 160 species.

They live in warm habitats, varying from to deserts, and while
almost half of the world’s chameleon species are native to
Madagascar, they are also found in Africa, southern Europe and Sri

Chameleons are able to change the colour of their skin due to
special colour pigment cells under their skin called

This allows them to create combined patterns of pink, blue, red,
orange, green, black, brown, yellow and purple.

While chameleons change colour to camouflage, this is not
necessarily the main reason why they do this.

Some will show darker colours to reflect when they are angry or
trying to scare other creatures.


When it comes to wildlife trade, Australia has strict laws in

Of significance is section 303EK of the Environment Protection
and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth)
which prohibits a person from importing a specimen if the specimen
is a regulated live specimen.

Any breach of this law will attract a maximum penalty of up to
10 years in jail and/or a fine of $210,000. Exemptions to this are
outlined in Part 2 of the list in section 303EB, or when the
specimen’s been imported ion compliance with a permit that has
been issued under section 303GD.

A “regulated live specimen” refers to a live animal or
plant that does not appear within the list reflected in section 303EB of the same act.

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