Polar bears, elephant tusk, big cats and pufferfish; the animals approved to be imported into New Zealand

Apr 23, 2019 | News

Bevan Hurley, Stuff

Polar bear rugs, a leopard’s head shot by a trophy hunter, lion skin and elephant ivory are among the animal products being approved for importation into New Zealand.

All manner of exotic animal parts from giraffes to pufferfish, and even crocodile woven into a wedding dress, were among 1529 specimens approved for importation between 2016 and 2018.

New Zealand is a party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which aims to protect endangered animals.

Animals killed before the treaty was signed are not bound by laws preventing their trade. Imports can also be approved if it can be proven the export will not impact negatively on the survival of that species in the wild.

Environmental experts, pointing to the devastation of animal populations and ecosystems in the past 30 years, say tighter regulations are needed to ensure the survival of threatened species.

They point to the trade in endangered and vulnerable animals that is helping to fuel the black market in products like ivory, which is worth billions of dollars and believed to be second only to the illicit drug trafficking market in value. 

After New Zealand’s elephant ivory laws came in for stinging criticism from wildlife groups, Conservation minister Eugenie Sage told Stuff she was reviewing whether New Zealand’s laws need to be tightened.

The list was revealed in an Official Information Act request to the Ministry for Primary Industries, who approved the importation of grizzly bear hides from Canada, dingo teeth from Australia, and a grand piano made from elephant ivory from the United Kingdom.

Victoria University environmental law professor Catherine Iorns said New Zealand should take a stricter line. “New Zealand is allowed to adopt rules that are stricter than the international convention. Perhaps we should refuse to give such import permits.

“I don’t think that New Zealanders want to be contributing to the demise of these species, especially through the killing of such beautiful creatures, and I think a lot of people would be appalled if they thought that we were.

“I think if people who are doing this became known to the public, they would be vilified. This may be an area where public sentiment is rapidly moving against hunting of such animals, even if they are declared to be sustainably hunted overseas.”

Zak Smith, from the US-based Natural Resources Defense Council, said 60 per cent of vertebrate animals had disappeared in the past 30 years. 

He said legal animal trading was often used to mask the extent of illegal trafficking, citing ivory as a prime example.

Smith said it was clear that the legal trade in big game trophy animals has a negative impact on the status of such species if those species are threatened with extinction.

“All countries, including New Zealand, should ban the export and import of vulnerable or endangered species. In fact, we should turn the system upside down and ban trade in all wildlife unless countries can affirmatively demonstrate that such trade will not contribute to further species decline, loss of diversity, and ecosystem collapse.”

Department of Conservation national compliance manager Marta Lang Silveira said some of the imports of elephant specimens into New Zealand were for forensic purposes, using carbon-dating laboratories to determine if specimens were killed prior to CITES coming into force.

Last week, African Wildlife Foundation chief executive Kaddu Sebunya called out New Zealand for continuing to allow ivory to be imported.  

Sebunya said high prices for carved ivory in auction houses and antique shops in New Zealand was fuelling demand.

Between 2013 and 2017 there were 176 legal elephant ivory imports into New Zealand, and 33 illegal seizures or surrenders. They included a tea caddie, three pianos, wooden elephants with ivory, a dominos set and other ornaments.

Over the same period there were three seizures of rhino horn (totalling seven packets of medicine) and two legal imports.

The Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage said she had received assurances that New Zealand’s domestic legislation, the Trade in Endangered Species Act or TIES Act, was consistent with the CITES act. 

She pointed to a piano imported from the UK without proper authorisation having its ivory keys removed as an example of New Zealand’s strict enforcement of the act.

“I have asked the Department of Conservation to provide advice on whether law changes are needed to strengthen the TIES Act and make any changes in relation to ivory. I am considering that advice,” she said. 

Some of the approved imports were for big game hunter trophies in Africa; zebra hides from Botswana, wildebeest from South Africa. There were six lion products listed. 

A polar bear rug from Norway, and a polar bear skin from the United States were also among the imports, as were all kinds of whales, snakes and bears. There was also an entry for “carved ivory/ tiger and walrus” from the United Kingdom, which was listed as a taxidermy product.

What Can You Bring In?

MPI allows certain types of hides in to the country. Fully tanned, processed hides and skins, and salted or dried skins.

Ornamental animal products, including game trophies, animals, small birds, and animal skins prepared and finished by a professional taxidermist.

Trademe bans listings of endangered species, protected wildlife, sports fish, game or unwanted animals such as ferrets.