Convicted animal smuggler Niall Cooke gave the world an insider’s look into the illegal wildlife trade of Western Australian Wildlife through a recent interview on the ABC’s 7.30 Report, and voiced the controversial opinion that to save animal lives, Australia should expand it’s list of species available to be legally exported.
The 25-year-old man has forty plus charges of “taking, possessing and transporting Australian species” under his belt and described to 7.30 how he fell into the smuggling industry as a mere teen. It came about as a consequence of his licensed work of taking reptiles for the industry. His contacts in the industry began asking him for protected animals, animals “not on the list”, and Cook acquiesced. He claims he saw it as a matter of “helping mates out”. Cooke now works as a guide in Kimberley for tourists who come to see the very animals he used to smuggle.
The remote Kimberley region lies to the north of Western Australia and is renowned for its scenic wilderness, breathtaking coastline and having, as Mr. Cooke testifies, “the most beautiful looking reptiles in Australia”.
But Cooke warns us that this national treasure is being exploited by international smuggling rings, who are treating it like a “candy store. The Kimberley has become a hotspot for illegal reptile trade with snakes and lizards easy pickings, and the incentive to steal them from their home substancial – a frill-necked lizard from Kimberley goes for up to six hundred dollars on the black market.
During the story on 7.30 Parks and Wildlife Officer, Matt Swan, showed a bobtail lizards fully wrapped in masking tape and unceremoniously shoved into teddy bears headed all the way to Asia. He has seen reptiles concealed in books and socks and the unlikeliest of places. It is little wonder that many of these animals do not survive the journey to their final destination, whether it be across Australia or across the world.
As one of the world’s most bio diverse countries, Australia naturally presents a very tempting target for animal smugglers and evidence is emerging that the covert animal trade might to a much greater extent than many previously thought. According to Cooke, the potential of large financial gain is attracting more and more criminals to the illegal trade, and the ease with which smuggled animals can be marketed on social media social media is further fuelling demand. Cooke showed 7.30 the Instagram profile of a man in the USA that smuggles and sells Australian species for a massive profit, who flagrantly advertises them on his social media account, seemingly unworried about the repercussions of his illegal actions.
Australia has some of the world’s most rigid regulations about animal exports. The staff at airports and post offices are also trained to stay vigilant in watching out for any suspicious packages, because the Australian police have no jurisdiction over the animals once the smugglers have successfully removed them from the country. However, despite these measures, Cooke believes that the authorities will not be able to successfully combat smuggling, he believes the best way to stop the illegal trafficking and animal deaths from cruel smuggling tactics is to legalise the illegal trade. If people could pay for a license to legally take the animals, he says that they would do exactly that.
His controversial opinion has not found favour with the government. Stephen Dawson, the WA Environment Minister, says that he has no intentions of changing the law just so that Cook can make money off these animals without fear of prosecution. In fact, the Federal Government is planning to go in the opposite direction and make the laws even stricter. The penalty for an individual poacher will climb from ten thousand dollars to five hundred thousand dollars.
The police and post offices in Derby and Broome are currently on high alert for any indications of smuggling. To find out more about the illegal smuggling of wildlife and the role we play in raising community awareness of the issue visit our homepage