Date: 04 March 2020
Litao Xu was sentenced in the Auckland District Court on Tuesday 3 March and is the first person to be convicted for illegally importing bear bile into the country.
In April 2018, Xu brought twelve vials of bear bile crystals into New Zealand from China and failed to declare them. Customs officers located the vials, which forensic testing proved to be Asiatic black bear bile. This species is protected under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Xu was taken to court by DOC and pleaded guilty to a charge of illegal import under the Trade in Endangered Species Act 1989 in September 2019. Yesterday she was convicted of trading in a threatened species without a permit and fined $7,500 and ordered to pay court costs.
Judge Blackie described the illegal trade in bear bile as a serious issue that threatens the survival of bears in the wild. He said New Zealand had recognised the need to combat the illegal trade in threatened species by passing the Trade in Endangered Species Act 1989.
"I want to send a clear message to others who might consider importing bear bile into New Zealand, that in future occasions following this case, they may well be facing sentences of imprisonment,” Judge Blackie stated.
He added that “In this case, there were no human victims but animal victims. They can suffer and feel pain ... these bears are victims”.
DOC Principal Compliance Officer Dylan Swain says, “Although the bear bile imported by Ms Xu was from a captive breeding facility that is legal in China, New Zealand does not allow the import of bear bile from Asiatic black bears.”
He says the conviction sends a strong signal that it is a crime to illegally import bear bile, or any other endangered or threatened wildlife specimens, into New Zealand.
"We’re pleased with the outcome of this case. The illegal trade in bear bile threatens the survival of Asiatic black bears. These magnificent animals are at high risk of extinction because of demand for their bile and other body parts on the black market. This judgement sends a strong message that anyone illegally trading in these types of products faces large fines or prison sentences.
“New Zealand needs international support protecting our own endangered species from being exploited, and we have a responsibility to help protect endangered and threatened wildlife in other countries. This case reinforces to our global partners that New Zealand takes a firm stance in combatting illegal trade in endangered species.”
A person convicted of importing threatened wildlife specimens into New Zealand without a permit faces maximum penalties of up to three years imprisonment, a fine of up to $50,000, or both imprisonment and a fine up to these maximum levels.
People wanting more information about CITES and importation requirements can visit the CITES section of the DOC website. DOC also has a webpage dedicated to CITES information on traditional Chinese medicines, available in English and Chinese.
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