Queenstown ‘scorpion smuggling ring’ men charged

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Four people have been charged in relation to smuggling live scorpions into New Zealand and through Queenstown Airport.

The New Zealand men were arrested after an investigation by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MIP).

The Ministry launched Operation Rock after receiving information in April that a Queenstown man was in possession of a live scorpion.

A live scorpion was found during a search in the town later that month.

Further investigations, including obtaining cell phone records, suggested there were five more scorpions.

A further search warrant was carried out at two addresses in Queenstown and Arrowtown.

But after questioning the defendants during the searches the investigators were satisfied the other scorpions had been destroyed.

The four men are charged with various breaches to the Biosecurity Act 1993 after the six Black Rock Scorpions (Urodacus manicatus) were allegedly smuggled from Australia through Christchurch International Airport and then into Queenstown.

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

MIP South Island compliance manager John Slaughter says: “Illegally introduced organisms can have major consequences for native species of all types if they compete or prey upon native species.

“In the very worst case scenario an illegally introduced organism could have truly catastrophic effects on New Zealand’s primary and tourism industries.

“We have expert advice that these scorpions could survive in the New Zealand climate, so it’s safe to say that we view this as an exceptionally stupid thing to do.”

The men are due to appear in Queenstown District Court in October.

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.

It is a widespread species and can be found in Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and Queensland.

Its sting can cause inflammation and pain for several hours in humans. It is a relatively long-lived species and can survive for eight years or more in the wild.