Four lizards – two live and two dead – were found in an Aranui man’s suitcase after it went missing on a flight from Thailand.
Duncan Keith Absolum, a 24-year-old security guard, denied all knowledge of the lizards found in a shoe and an umbrella inside the suitcase.
However, he admitted he had photographed lizards while on holiday using his cellphone.
The Christchurch District Court was told that biosecurity inspectors then seized Absolum’s cellphone and sent the seven photographs to a lizard expert, a herpetologist.
Prosecutor Grant Fletcher told the court: “The herpetologist concluded that when he compared the photographs (from the cellphone and photographs of the lizards that had been found), one of the lizards was ‘unequivocally the same individual’, another was ‘highly likely to be the same individual’, and another was ‘almost certainly the same individual’.”
The expert said he had been able positively to identify the lizards because of their individual markings. He said: “Lizards’ markings are as distinctive as a human’s fingerprint. No two are alike.”
Absolum admitted charges of knowingly making a false declaration on his arrival declaration card, under the Bisoecurity Act, and attempting to possess unauthorised goods.
The lizards are listed as three Calotes emma and one Calotes versicolor.
On May 15, Absolum travelled back to New Zealand via Bangkok and Sydney. When he arrived in Auckland on May 16, it was found that his suitcase was still in Sydney and would be delivered to Christchurch the next day.
A customs officer searched his suitcase in Christchurch on May 17 and found two live lizards – one of them hidden in a shoe, and two found dead in an umbrella inside the suitcase.
The lizards are native to South East Asia and are not found in New Zealand.
The two live lizards were euthanised by a veterinarian.
Mr Fletcher said the lizards were totally prohibited from importation into New Zealand. “Any new species pose a risk to existing native organisms, as well as the risk of ‘hitchhiker organisms’,” Mr Fletcher told the court.
Judge Brian Callaghan remanded Absolum for sentencing on April 27. He asked for a pre-sentence report which will consider Absolum’s suitability for a community or home detention sentence.