Men face harsh new laws for alleged echidna theft
TWO Queensland men who allegedly stole a native animal from the wild could become the first people in the state to be dealt the harshest penalty for a wildlife crime.
It is understood the pair, aged 29 and 30 of Marburg, are the first to be charged in Queensland for keeping a Class 1 protected animal after a raid by Queensland Police last month found a live female echidna on their property.
Queensland Police found the medium-sized egg-laying mammal when they executed a search warrant on the Prenzlau property, west of Ipswich, on August 17.
Along with the echidna, police also found a carpet python and a number of weapons including four "pen guns" and a shortened rifle.
Stealing an echidna from its natural habitat is considered a class 1 offence against section 88 of the Nature Conservation Act of 1992 and carries a maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment or a fine of $378,450.
Detective Inspector Lance Vercoe said it was a surprising find for officers, who were otherwise used to locating weapons and drugs.
"We believe this is the first time a person has been charged in Queensland for keeping a class 1 protected animal under the Nature Conservation Act," he said.
Environment Minister Steven Miles said stealing an echidna carried the highest penalty someone could receive for a wildlife-related crime in the state.
"Thankfully, due to the great teamwork between Queensland Police Service and our wildlife officers, this echidna has been moved to a safe facility, with the aim of releasing it back into the wild where it belongs," he said.
Dr Miles said the aim is always to release the protected animals into the wild, but this is not possible if there is a risk of spreading disease or the original source of the animal is unknown.
"Unfortunately in this case, the re-releasing of this snake is not an option, but we hope the echidna can be rehabilitated.
"Many native Australian animals are commercially attractive and the illegal take and trade of them is a significant issue across Australia and internationally."
A 29-year-old man has been charged with 12 offences including unlawful possession of category H, A and R weapons, possess shortened firearm, manufacturing weapons, possess dangerous drug and offences relating to the restriction on keeping or using protected animal class 1 and class 4.
A 30-year-old man has been charged with unlawful possession category H weapon, manufacturing weapon, possess utensil and restriction of keeping protected animal class 1 and class 4 offences.
Both will appear in the Ipswich Magistrates Court on September 13.
In 2016 the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection successfully prosecuted two matters relating to offences under the Nature Conservation Act 1992 and subordinate legislation.
According to the department, both of those matters related to wildlife offences with penalties imposed of $5000 and $2728.