Queenstown school was searched for scorpions

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Claims a smuggled scorpion had been found in the grounds of a Queenstown primary school led to an extensive search of its premises.

The Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) was concerned there could be a risk to pupils, so searched with ultra-violet light as scorpions glowed when they were exposed to UV, the Ministry said in its summary of facts presented in the Christchurch District Court yesterday.

Iszac William Walters, 23, of Sydney, appeared before Judge Roy Wade admitting charges under the Biosecurity Act of possessing and disposing of black rock scorpions. 

Walters will be sentenced on December 11.

Three Queenstown men have also been charged in relation to the incident and are due to appear in the Queenstown District Court on Monday.

The maximum penalty for each of the charges faced by the men is five years in prison or a fine of $100,000.

The MPI summary of facts said Walters smuggled six scorpions through Christchurch International Airport from Australia on February 17 this year.

When the MPI received information a man had possession of a live scorpion which was kept in his bedroom, he was questioned. The man said he found it in a takeaway box at Queenstown Primary School and decided to keep it.

An extensive search of the school grounds found no scorpions.

Inquiries led to Walters and statements that he had smuggled the scorpions inside a 35mm film cannister.

Scorpions are restricted organisms as defined by the Biosecurity Act 1993 and were unauthorised goods if they were outside of a containment facility without the authority of an inspector.

Illegally introduced organisms could have major consequences for native species if they occupied the same ecological niche and out-competed or preyed on native species, the MPI said.

The black rock scorpion is a dark-coloured species that can grow up to 55mm in length and is often found living under rocks and logs in Australia.

The MPI reported scorpion specialist Dr Erich Volshenk, of Australia, said the scorpion, which lived in cooler areas of Australia, such as Victoria and South Australia, could survive in the northern part of New Zealand, and any areas with a similar temperate range.

Its sting was unlikely to be fatal to humans but could cause inflammation and pain for several hours.

They were also prohibited from being removed from Australia.

– Otago Daily Times