By Aneeka Simonis
AN OFFICER man was sentenced to jail after he was caught running “a very calculated operation” illegally keeping and in-breeding protected reptiles to sell for financial gain.
Authorities seized more than 600 illegally kept reptiles as part of the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) investigation, including eight exotic species which were euthanased on a court order.
The convicted 41-year-old Officer man, whose wildlife licence was revoked in 2009 for related offences, was sentenced to four months imprisonment at the Dandenong Magistrates’ Court on Thursday 15 December.
The landmark case marks the first time DELWP has initiated proceedings under the Wildlife Act that have resulted in an immediate imprisonment term.
However, the repeat wildlife offender has now been released on bail after he was granted the right to an appeal.
In August 2015 – after 12 months of intelligence and monitoring, DELWP Wildlife Officers searched properties in Pakenham and Frankston as part of Operation Atco.
The Officer man was charged with more than 30 offences, including multiple counts of possession of wildlife and keeping prohibited pest animals.
A 33-year-old co-accused from Frankston has also been charged on related offences. His case is yet to go to court.
DELWP Statewide manager for Regulation and Compliance Glenn Sharp said the sentence sent a strong message to people involved in illegal wildlife trade.
“The seizure of reptiles and charges laid followed nearly 12 months of monitoring and intelligence gathering by our officers,” he said.
“The hundreds of pythons and bearded dragons we seized had been bred in captivity by the accused, who deliberately in-bred species to create ‘desirable’ mutant traits in the reptiles.
“It is a privilege for Victorians to be able to legally keep, breed and trade reptiles under licence; and the accused flagrantly abused this privilege.”
It was revealed the Officer man did not hold a wildlife licence, as it was revoked after he was found guilty of wildlife offences in 2009.
“Our investigators found the accused had been running a very calculated operation, conspiring to secretly house, breed and sell protected wildlife in pursuit of financial gain,” Mr Sharp said.
In court, Magistrate Pauline Spencer was scathing in her assessment of the accused’s misconduct.
The accused was ordered to destroy all seized goods in addition to his jail term.
The reptiles seized by wildlife officers included four exotic reptiles, two Parsons chameleons and two crested geckos.
They were euthanased to reduce the risk of infecting native wildlife of exotic disease.
All native reptiles were also euthanased following a court order issued in October last year.
The Officer man has lodged an appeal, listed for March 2017 in the County Court of Victoria, and has been released on bail pending appeal.
DEWLP urged people to report cases of suspected illegal wildlife trade.