In a bid to combat the illegal wildlife trade in and out of Australia, the federal government has invested in further developing its world-first 3D X-ray technology to stop criminals profiting at the expense of animals.

Key points:

  • The illegal wildlife trade in and out of Australia is in the hundreds of millions of dollars every year
  • The federal government says new X-ray technology to combat the criminal industry is a world first
  • World Animal Protection says wild animal trade is devastating for poached species, and threatens humans with zoonotic diseases

Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud said it was important the government took action on the exploitation of wildlife.

“Illegal wildlife trade is an international problem and has the potential to threaten Australia’s natural environment, [the] $61-billion agriculture industry, and human health,” he said.

How does it work?

Mr Littleproud said the new innovations were similar to the border force systems in place at airports.

The trial will involve 3D X-ray scanning units that also use an algorithm that detects and identifies biosecurity risks, like fruit.

“We’re changing the algorithm to not just look for contraband, but now look for fruit, vegetables, seafood, plant materials and animals,” he said.

“We will be able see these in packages, not just in airports, but at our postal facilities where some of these species have tried to be smuggled through.

A woman in a mask and fluorescent yellow jumper looking at a computer.

A biosecurity officer checks parcels for smuggled objects.(

Supplied: Australian Department of Agriculture

)

Due to the significant threat posed by any exotic species brought into Australia, authorities have ramped up interception efforts, Mr Littleproud said.

The government is working with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to pinpoint where threats are coming from.

“We’re also looking to increase the penalties [for wildlife smuggling],” Mr Littleproud said.

“We’ve got bills in front of parliament right now to try and increase this.

Internationally rife crime

Ben Pearson from World Animal Protection said government efforts to interrupt the criminal smuggling of animals was necessary and welcome.

“We continue to see examples where police and customs officials intercept attempts to smuggle native animals out of Australia.

“Stealing animals from the wild does have an impact.

“In some cases, some of the species are being taken in numbers that cause problems.”

A Wildlife officer holds a lizard which was being smuggled out of the country

A wildlife officer holds a lizard which was being smuggled out of the country.(

Supplied: WA Parks and Wildlife Service

)

Mr Pearson said the international significance of illegal wildlife trade was made obvious in less developed countries where poaching animals was rife.

“It does actually have an impact on the populations of species that are endangered, the very good example being the pangolin,” he said.

A pangolin sitting in grass

The pangolin has been suggested as an intermediary animal in the journey of SARS-CoV-2 from bats into humans.(

Supplied: WJC

)

Zoonotic diseases

Mr Pearson said all kinds of animal trade needed to be taken extremely seriously, not only for the welfare of the creature, but due to the threat to human health.

“The simple fact is trade of wild animals creates the perfect conditions for new diseases to emerge and then spill over to humans,” he said.

“In some cases, millions of animals are put into dreadful unhygienic conditions where they’re stressed and therefore their immune systems are compromised.

Federal government vows to tackle multimillion-dollar illegal wildlife trade
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