An Auckland woman who attempted to smuggle hundreds of illegal succulents and cacti into New Zealand has been sentenced to 12 months of intensive supervision and 100 hours of community work.
Wenqing Li, 38, who is also known as Wendy, pleaded guilty to charges relating to two separate incidents at Auckland International Airport when she was returning from China to her Auckland home.
On March 24, 2019, she strapped stockings containing 947 succulents and cacti onto her body and attempted to smuggle them into the country, the Ministry for Primary Industries says. The cacti included eight endangered and threatened species and the plants were worth over $10,000.
After a detector dog noticed her, she unsuccessfully tried to get rid of the plants in the airport toilets. MPI officers stopped the evidence being destroyed and fully searched the toilets where they found large amounts of the plants, including three stockings filled with succulents and cacti in a rubbish bin in the men's toilet.
In a second separate incident on July 23, 2019, Li was found to have 142 unauthorised seeds hidden in two commercially packaged iPad covers in her luggage, as well as over 200 plant pots and garden ornaments wrapped in mouldy, wet paper. The plant pots also contained a snail and two pieces of tree fern stem.
Li, who was a seller and trader of the plants on TradeMe, was sentenced in the Manukau District Court on Tuesday.
Simon Anderson, MPI's regional team manager for northern compliance investigations, says while most people do the right thing when it comes to biosecurity at the border, Li's sentencing is a reminder that anyone who smuggles plants or endangered species into New Zealand can expect to be prosecuted.
"It's important to remember that bringing unauthorised plants into the country by any method, whether smuggling through the border in person or receiving products by mail, puts New Zealand's biosecurity at risk," he says.
"Biosecurity NZ takes its role of protecting New Zealand from biosecurity threats very seriously. Our country is fortunate to be free of many of the invasive pests and diseases found in other countries."
Anderson adds the Department of Conservation, NZ Customs, and MPI all work closely together on cases involving the trade of endangered species and treat these as "very serious offending", especially when they're found in New Zealand.
"Our economy and way of life is dependent on keeping these threats out of the country."