Operation Wilson brings criminal syndicate to a halt

22 February 2021

A Sydney pair who bound reptiles in stockings and stuffed them in speakers and toy trucks before attempting to post them overseas have been found guilty.

The sentencing of 33-year-old Mr Zheyuan Qiu to 5 years imprisonment and 30-year-old Ms Ut Lei Lei to 2 years, 10 months imprisonment at the NSW District Court sends a strong warning for those involved in the cruel and exploitative crime of illegal wildlife trafficking.   

The court stated that the sentence reflected the serious nature of the offences, the sophistication of the operation and the motivation of financial gain.

It was also noted that the sentence should act as deterrence from the cruel plunder of Australian wildlife and offenders should expect sentences of imprisonment.

An investigation by the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment’s Environmental Crime Investigators uncovered that between November 2018 and January 2020, Qiu and Lei Lei attempted to export 17 packages containing 45 native species to Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Among the species were Shingleback, Blue-tongue and Bearded Dragon lizards, Eastern long-necked and Saw-shelled turtles, pythons and a deadly Red-bellied black snake that also posed a significant risk to those who handled the parcel where it was concealed.

The execution of a search warrant on 23 January 2020 at the pair’s residence lead to the seizure of a further 205 reptiles with 106 of these identified as non-native and listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.  

Both offenders were arrested at the scene.

Illegal wildlife trafficking has an immeasurable impact on Australia’s diverse biodiversity along with the animals themselves.

Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 it is an offence to export a regulated native specimen without a permit. Each wildlife offence carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment or a $210,000 fine.

Fast facts:

  • Imported specimens found at the border are also generally considered a biosecurity risk by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and are euthanised.
  • Specimens seized during attempted export are initially transferred to wildlife carers, zoos or wildlife hospitals.
  • Reporting indicates that criminal syndicates in Australia poach live native reptiles without regard for age, health and weight, and possible impact on habitat and Indigenous artefacts in the collection process.