Woman prosecuted for bringing in threatened plants

Court House-Sept-2013-07A Chinese woman who brought two threatened plants into Christchurch airport in her luggage has been remanded for sentencing in what may be the first case of its type.

The 44-year-old woman was remanded on bail for sentencing on October 23 after pleading guilty in the Christchurch District Court today. Judge Brian Callaghan asked for a pre-sentence report on her suitability for home or community detention.

Ministry of Primary Industries prosecutor Grant Fletcher said he was not aware of any earlier prosecutions under this legislation in Canterbury, but he would make more wider checks before sentencing.

Xiaoqing Kuang, 44, of Papanui, who is in New Zealand on a work visa, admitted charges of trading in a threatened species, and failing to declare “risk goods” when questioned by a quarantine inspector.

Mr Fletcher said Kuang flew into Christchurch from Singapore, having travelled from Guangzhou, China, on March 7.

An officer questioned her about the presence of forbidden or controlled items. Because of her nervous demeanour, she was sent for x-ray screening and routine screening of luggage. That identified a large quantity of risk goods in the luggage.

One bag contained undeclared goods including two threatened species plant items listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. They were American ginseng and Herba dendrobii, the pharmaceutical name for the Dendrobium nobile orchid.

The plants are not considered to be an endangered species but are threatened with extinction if their trade is not regulated. They require an export permit from their country of origin and an importer’s permit to bring them into New Zealand.

The orchid was hidden inside a large amount of tea. One bag also contained undeclared dried shrimps which were later cleared for entry.

 “American ginseng is an endangered plant, the root of which is commonly used for Chinese traditional medicine,” said Mr Fletcher. It is found in the eastern hardwopod forests of Canada and the United States but has become completely depleted in some states and very rare in other areas. It is a highly prized plant product and half a kilogram can earn “hunters” more than US$1000.

The orchid is endemic to equatorial and sub-tropical regions of Asia. It is listed as rare in Vietnam, and has a threatened status throughout Asia.

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