A 23-year-old Sydney man has admitted smuggling six live scorpions through Christchurch International Airport from Australia.
The Ministry of Primary Industries told the Christchurch District Court – where Iszac William Walters pleaded guilty to two charges today – that the illegal introduction of organisms could have “catastrophic” effects in New Zealand.
The six scorpions were passed on to three men in Queenstown who have already been charged and are due to appear in court there on Monday.
Walters had returned from Australia to “face the music”, his lawyer Graeme Riach told Judge Roy Wade.
Walters pleaded guilty to charges of possessing the six black rock scorpions at Christchurch Airport on February 17, and disposing of them.
MPI prosecutor Grant Fletcher said the illegal introduction of organisms could have catastrophic effects in New Zealand. It could have major consequences for native species that occupied the same biological niche or competed for food.
“There are no indigenous scorpions in New Zealand so the importation is strictly controlled and regulated,” he said. An importation had last been allowed in 2011, but scorpions were only allowed in for research or display at zoos.
The black rock species was found living under rocks. It was a dark coloured species – one of three found in the greater Melbourne area – and could grow up to 55mm in length.
It could inflict a painful sting which was unlikely to be fatal for a healthy adult. Its effect on infants was unknown.
The scorpions were prohibited to be removed from Australia.
In April, the MPI received information that someone had a scorpion in his bedroom in Queenstown. When he was questioned, he said he had found the scorpion in a takeaway packet at Queenstown Primary School.
An extensive search was made at the school, including a search with ultra-violet light under which scorpions glow. No scorpions were found.
Inquiries led to Walters who was asked about bringing in the scorpions in a 35mm film canister. He was contacted by letter to provide details about the number and disposal of the scorpions.
Mr Riach asked for Walters to be allowed to return to Sydney pending sentencing, though he would be in Christchurch for the next week and would be interviewed by Community Probation for a pre-sentence report in that time.
He said Walters lived in Sydney and had come to New Zealand for the court appearance. He was at a critical stage of his employment, where his job as a staging assistant for a local news network was in the process of being made permanent.
“It will have a huge effect if he is unable to return within the next fortnight to secure that permanent position,” he said. “He has done the right thing by coming back to face the music.”
Walters had every intention of returning for his sentencing. “He’s clearly made an error that he is going to pay heavily for. He has at least shown the maturity to come back and answer to it.”
Mr Fletcher asked for Walters’ passport to be surrendered but Judge Wade pointed out that New Zealand and Australia had an extradition treaty.
Walters will be sentenced in Christchurch on December 11.
The Ministry said earlier that all the scorpions had been found or had been destroyed.