Hundreds of lizards seized in Australia police bust

Captured Australian lizards
Image caption,Police say the reptiles had an estimated street value of A$1.2m (£633,000; $805,000)

By Hannah Ritchie

BBC News, Sydney

A criminal syndicate that planned to illegally export hundreds of native lizards from Australia to Hong Kong has been “dismantled”, authorities say.

The reptiles had an estimated market value of A$1.2m (£633,000; $805,000), according to New South Wales Police.

Three men and a woman have been arrested in Sydney.

Some 257 lizards and three snakes were seized by police after allegedly being kept in poor conditions. They have been treated and returned to the wild.

Police set up a taskforce to investigate the alleged smugglers in September after 59 live lizards were intercepted in nine small containers on their way to Hong Kong.

Officers have conducted a series of raids in New South Wales in the past few weeks.

At one home in Sydney they seized 118 lizards, three snakes, eight eggs and 25 dead lizards. A search of a property in rural Grenfell turned up four lizards hidden in bags.

The four suspects – all aged between 31 and 59 – have been charged with offences including exporting native reptiles, dealing with the proceeds of crime and participating in a criminal group,

If convicted, they face up to 15 years in prison.

Two of the men were refused bail after appearing in court over the weekend.

In recent decades, Hong Kong has grown to dominate the international trade in a range of exotic animals, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

In 2021, a study published by the ADM Capital Foundation found that over a five-year period, four million live animals from at least 84 countries were imported into the city.

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