Recent reptile thefts, corrupt and overzealous wildlife officials and similar matters from Australia.

By Raymond T Hoser,

41 Village Avenue, Doncaster, Victoria, 3108, Australia.

Originally Published in The Reptilian Magazine (UK) 1(8) 1993:33-35.

The book Smuggled was due to be released in June 1992, but for various reasons the release has been delayed until February 1993. (Actual release date was May 1993) The book covers wildlife smuggling from an Australian perspective with chapters relating to similar matters in the UK, USA and elsewhere. The book details corruption in State wildlife departments in Australia, and shows that corrupt wildlife officials appear to dominate operations smuggling wildlife from Australia. Smuggled shows how wildlife is routinely stolen from keepers, often when it is legally held, and then makes it's way to buyers in the USA and Europe.

Smuggled also details overzealous wildlife officers who literally entrap keepers into breaking wildlife laws and often 'bust' keepers for the most trivial of alleged offences. Come recent cases that fit the above pattern and are not mentioned in Smuggled are worth mentioning here.

On 20/2/89 a Northern Territory person, Errol Woods, was taken to court, convicted and fined for feeding live bats and birds to three pet Olive Pythons Liasis olivaceous. This case followed the unsuccessful trial of West Australian herpetologist Paul Orange for feeding four common lizards to his snakes. In the Orange case, the magistrate found that Orange had been 'entraped' by officials into giving them his feeding records. The four separate charges, one for each lizard, were dismissed and Orange was awarded maximum costs. An earlier case launched by West Australian fauna officials against reptile keeper Peter Tight was similarly unsuccessful.

The New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) are well-known as having had numerous corrupt officials over the last 20 years, and the involvement of these officials with reptile smuggling and other rackets are well-documented in Smuggled. In spite of this there has been no respite in incidents relating to officials in that department and new allegations against them over the last 12 months.

For example, although Smuggled details corrupt activities of the former director of Sydney's Taronga Zoo, Sir Edward Hallstrom, and others at that institution in relation to NPWS and wildlife trafficking, more recently released material from the Customs department (some of the operation donught (wildlife trafficking) file), written by Jim McShane further corroborates the allegations against Hallstrom and NPWS.

'It became apparent through follow-up investigations that certain persons in responsible positions in private enterprise - and certain government bodies had access to information of vital concern in connection with investigations and other matters.'

'Pressure allegedly brought to bear by Sir Edward (Hallstrom) through a member of the NSW State Parliament (named) probably forced the removal of a key (non-corrupt) officer of the National Parks and Wildlife Service who had provided assistance to investigators'

'It was established that the (name of MP) was the right-hand man of the late Sir Edward Hallstrom and between them were responsible for the main illegal export and illegal import of the rarer type fauna'.

The NPWS have allegedly been 'reviewing' legislation for over five years now. This 'review' has resulted in NPWS not acting on current legislation and having a self-imposed ban on issuing all forms of keeping permits. All applications are responded to with a form letter by licencing clerk Gary Ellis, stating the same. However NPWS have seen fit to selectively invoke other sections of the same legislation (also under ‘review') to raid licence applicants and seize reptiles.

Sydney reptile enthusiast Shannon Wharton made innumerable licence applications to NPWS, only to be refused and given the standard form letter. In the first week of April 1992, he was raided by NPWS officials who declared that they wanted to take all his reptiles. Wharton's parents refused to allow the NPWS officials to take the reptiles and told them to come back with a court issued warrant to take the reptiles if they wanted them.

Wharton's father then sent NPWS a four page letter explaining the hypocrisy of the NPWS's actions in 'entraping' his son and that NPWS should immediately licence the reptiles. Followed up by a number of phone calls which among other things mentioned the Weinholt case (see below), Wildlife enforcement officer Leyton Llewellyn allowed Wharton to keep all his reptiles, excluding two Land Mullet Lizards Egernia major, which he was to arrange collection of. In a letter dated llth, June, 1992, Llewellyn falsely implied that NPWS wanted these lizards because they were endangered. Far from being endangered, these lizards are widespread and common in NSW and Queensland, and are on no endangered lists anywhere! Wharton asserted that Llewellyn probably wanted the lizards 'for a deal'.

Llewellyn allowed his own son, Richard trap and keep reptiles for some years while he was in the enforcement section of NPWS and 'raiding' similarly unlicenced people and seizing reptiles.

Kaj Bulliard, another Sydney reptile keeper, repeatedly applied for permits from NPWS in the period 1990-2. Besides getting the standard Ellis form letter stating that no permits to keep were being issued, another event also happened. Immediately following an application to NPWS for a permit, his facility was broken into and reptiles were stolen. In an interview dated 5/1/93, Bulliard stated that NPWS officials were 'the only suspects' as 'the only other person who knew I had reptiles at the time was with me when it (the break in) occurred'.

Bulliard was victim of another NPWS break in on 8/1193, when three officers, Blade, Smith and Smith, were confronted by Bulliard. The Sydney media filmed this break in. Bulliard was told by one of the officers, 'if you don't let us in, we'll jump over the back fence'.

In all 7 snakes and one lizard - his entire collection were taken on that day.

A second reptile keeper in the same part of Sydney also had reptiles taken from his facility on the same day. He wasn't home when the theft occurred. Three snakes, including a gravid Diamond Python Morelia spilota were taken.

Also in late 1992, three separate private zoos in or near Sydney were broken into and had pythons stolen. Symbio Koala Gardens had seven pythons stolen on Christmas Eve. The Sydney media reported that inquires pointed to the snakes being sold for well-known strip acts in Sydney's Kings Cross. The various strippers pay $500 per snake and need a constant supply, as due to the cruel and rough treatment of the snakes, they don't live long. It was alleged that officials of NPWS were corruptly allowing the strippers to illegally buy and use the snakes ('protection') as it would have been effectively impossible for them to operate in the way they did without knowledge and consent of NPWS officials.

Which brings us back to the Weinholt case. Licencing Clerk, Gary Ellis, the man responsible for enforcing NPWS's self imposed ban, decided to corruptly issue a licence to the son of his family doctor, Chris Weinholt. Subsequently he corruptly issued a second licence to a close friend of Weinholt's, again in violation of the 'ban'. Ellis also came under the attention of the Independant Commission against Corruption of NSW, (ICAC) for allegedly demanding cash payments with licence applications.

The ICAC have recently been working overtime on NPWS matters. Aboriginal Commissioner Steve Gordon, himself a senior public servant also made a number of startling allegations against NPWS. The allegations are detailed in Smuggled. In s Gordon alleged that he had been involved in illegally trading wildlife in rackets operated by NPWS directors, Giles, Johnstone and Steele. Gordon alleged that the three men took bribes of up to $30,000 in relation to Kangaroo permits. Gordon repeatedly asserted that NPWS officials were 'most corrupt' and alleged that NPWS directors were involved with Mafia identities, court fixing and murdered people who threatened to expose their rackets.

Gordon was very specific in the information he provided and detailed murders of two brothers, Harry and Eric Judd, whose bodies were found dumped in a car at the bottom of a dam in outback NSW. A third man, Andrew Komarnicki had his body put through a pet food mincer.

Gordon also provided information that incriminated Qld fauna officers. ICAC investigators were at the time of writing, busily interviewing people thoughout NSW and interstate on the Gordon allegations and matters raised subsequently. Retired NPWS officer Clive Bennett, further corroborated Gordon's claim in a tape recorded interview to the ICAC. (Smuggled provides more information about Bennett's activities before leaving NPWS).

In Queensland, a wildlife officer, Modesto Melino was found shot dead at point blank range. It was alleged that he too had known too much about official corruption and was therefore eliminated.

Raymond Hoser has been an active herpetologist for about 30 years and published over 150 papers in journals worldwide and nine books.

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