Student lands $15,000 fine for illegal reptile importation

They may look cute, but corn snakes could be catastrophic for the environment (AAP / file)
They may look cute, but corn snakes could be catastrophic for the environment (AAP / file)

An Auckland student has been fined $15,000 for illegally importing reptiles, despite applying to be discharged without conviction.

Harris Edward Sollis, 21, pleaded guilty in court this week to one charge of attempting to possess unauthorised goods, knowing they were unauthorised, after a two-year investigation by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

He had arranged for a Swedish contact to mail five veiled chameleons, one iguana and an American corn snake to a friend's Hillsborough address in October 2014.

Simon Anderson, MPI's northern investigations manager, said the importation posed a very serious risk for New Zealand's economy, ecology and international reputation.

"Firstly, there is the risk of the species becoming established and devastating our native species. Secondly, there is the risk of parasites and pathogens that various species may bring with them. Both could be catastrophic for the environment."

Sollis, who keeps and breeds New Zealand and exotic reptiles, applied for a discharge without conviction based on the grounds it could affect his future career goals and his studies in ecology and zoology.

It was denied due to the gravity of the offence - snakes in particular are completely banned in New Zealand.

"The gravity of this sort of offending cannot be underestimated," Mr Anderson said.

During MPI's investigation, Sollis said he had always been interested in reptiles, but denied any knowledge of the intercepted mail or ordering reptiles from overseas.

"Thanks to the dedication of the MPI staff involved in all aspects of this investigation, a positive biosecurity outcome was achieved," Mr Anderson said.