Authorities are encouraging the community to continue submitting reports to help stop illegal wildlife trafficking and trade in and out of Australia, after a spike in reports in the last year.
Crime Stoppers Victoria has received a 59 per cent increase in reports about suspicious behaviour in the last year, chief executive, Stella Smith, said.
The reports include observations of suspicious behaviour out in the environment, though it is believed increased time spent online since the onset of the pandemic has led to more people reporting suspicious content.
"People are disgusted by trafficked wildlife - they don't like it," Ms Smith said.
"They're at home and they're seeing more activity and are keen to see something done about it, which is great because it provides investigators with valuable information that helps lead to prosecutions."
It comes as a campaign, called Break The Chain, was launched by Crime Stoppers Victoria, the Conservation Regulator and Agriculture Victoria last week.
Ms Smith said disrupting and stopping the illegal wildlife trade was important - not just because of the cruelty inflicted on animals but because the sales could fund other crimes.
"Illegal wildlife trade in Australia can be as profitable for criminals and drugs and firearms trafficking," she said.
The animals captured from the environment are often cruelly packaged in an attempt to conceal them before being posted or shipped overseas. Though for those that are not intercepted before they leave Australian shores, many die during the often long transportation process.
"Criminals are opportunistic - they look for any chance to make money. If they can take an animal from the wild, send it on and make some money for it, they're not particularly bothered [about the welfare of the animal]," Ms Smith said.
"It is disturbing that they're prepared to let something suffer and die just to make money from it."
Chief Conservation Regulator, Kate Gavens, outlined several key concerns with illegal wildlife trafficking.
"One of the key concerns that we have with illegal wildlife trafficking is that it can be cruel.
"We see animals, such as reptiles, trafficked overseas. They are wrapped in tape and put in chip packets and rice cookers and sent via international post," she said.
We see animals, such as reptiles, trafficked overseas. They are wrapped in tape and put in chip packets and rice cookers and sent via international postKate Gavens
"It's quite a cruel trade and it impacts on our native wildlife."
Some native species are frequently targeted due to the high prices they can attract on the black market.
Some lizards can sell for up to $30,000 each, with Shingleback lizards one of the most popular in the international black market. A single Shingleback can fetch up to $10,000.
"They are easy to traffic internationally because their bodies essentially shut down during trafficking, but they still suffer significantly when trafficked through the post from dehydration, stress and they can suffocate," Ms Gavens explained.
Another commonly trafficked species, the endangered Red Tailed Black Cockatoo, can sell for up to $100,000 each.
"What we see here is criminals targeting nest sites and selling the eggs internationally.
"But we've only got 1000 Red Tailed Black Cockatoos left in the wild. They are a really important and vulnerable species in Australia so we really want to crack down on that to stop the loss of our biodiversity."
Ms Gavens said animals being brought into Australia illegally was also an issue.
"A key part of the Breaking the Chain campaign is also focused on the import of exotics into Australia and into Victoria."
These include the African Pygmy Hedgehog and Red-Eared Slider Turtle, which are often illegally purchased and imported as pets.
"Both of those are exotic pests, they're illegal to import into Victoria and they can really impact on our biodiversity because they carry disease and they're aggressive predators.
"So introducing them into Victoria can potentially have really detrimental impacts on our native wildlife and have devastating impacts on our biodiversity."
How is it being addressed?
Ms Gavens said the Conservation Regulator had been working closely with Crime Stoppers, the Australian Border Force, Australia Post and Agriculture Victoria during the past few years to better identify where illegal wildlife trade and trafficking was happening and how to disrupt it.
"We've had some real success through the Melbourne gateway facility at Melbourne Airport in identifying reptiles bound for international illegal markets through x-ray machines and that's led to some quite significant cases through the courts."
In 2019 the Conservation Regulator instigated a major operation into illegal international wildlife trafficking.
"Parcels were intercepted which contained reptiles that had been taped up and wrapped in socks and in containers," Ms Gavens said.
Six people went through the court system as a result of the joint investigation with other agencies, with several since convicted in both Victoria and in other states and territories.
One person was convicted and jailed for illegally possessing and dealing in native species, resulting in the trafficking of hundreds of native reptiles into Hong Kong.
Closer to home, the Conservation Regulator late last year seized a 2.75 metre albino Burmese Python, native to South East Asia, from a Ballarat house.
Meanwhile, a man and woman were recently fined after removing a number of Eastern Long Neck Turtles from a dam in Ararat in January 2019, before advertising and selling them online.
Possessing illegally imported animals or their offspring is an offence and can be subject to a penalty of up to 10 years in jail and fines of up to $210,000.
Meanwhile, illegally buying, selling, acquiring, keeping or breeding wildlife in Victoria can send you to jail for up to two years or with a fine or just over $40,000.
How community can help
Ms Smith said Crime Stoppers could always take reports about wildlife related-crime, even outside of the campaign.
"We are really looking for support from the community to help shut the trade down."
She said reporting suspicious activity seen online, including details of where it was seen and any details about the person posting could be "enormously helpful".
She added criminals switched usernames and platforms to maintain anonymity when posting wildlife for sale in the public domains of social media or ecommerce sites.
Around 1200 code words were detected being used to search and buy wildlife illegally online last year.
Though authorities are also aware criminals illegally sell wildlife using the dark web.
Ms Gavens called on the community to report suspicious behaviour.
"We are really calling on all Victorians, when they see people out in the bush, in forests and parks with nets, buckets or egg cartons, to report that through to Crime Stoppers to support us to get information to crack down on these activities.
"If you see something, then please report it to Crime Stoppers - every piece of information can help us to break the chain and crack down on this illegal and cruel activity."
She added personal action could also disrupt the trade at a local level.
"If you're buying wildlife, make sure the wildlife dealer provides their license when selling animals to you and make sure you do the appropriate checks and that the animal looks healthy."
Anyone can report suspicious activity to Crime Stoppers anonymously 1800 333 000 or by visiting crimestoppers.vic.au and making an online report.
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