Your Pet, Our Pest – There is nothing cute about Hedgehog trafficking

Photo- Crime Stoppers.

MELBOURNE, 26 March 2024: Illegally trafficked African pygmy hedgehogs have been located in Victoria, sparking a nation-wide investigation and prompting Crime Stoppers Victoria and Agriculture Victoria to launch a new campaign,Your Pet, Our Pest’.

The discovery of these two exotic pest animals in Richmond resulted in Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action (DEECA) Officers uncovering a large illegal trade network of exotic animals.

Crime Stoppers Victoria and Agriculture Victoria are working together to address the potential increase of exotic animals in the state by highlighting the cruel conditions imposed by this illegal trade, and the potentially devastating impact even the cutest of exotic animals can have on the environment.

The new campaign, ‘Your Pet, Our Pest’, focuses on in-demand exotic pets, such as the hedgehog, which are likely to be stolen from the wild or bred in captivity under cruel conditions before they are transported to countries such as Australia.

Crime Stoppers Victoria Chief Executive Stella Smith explains, “The journey endured by many exotic animals during illegal transit is traumatic. The two hedgehogs discovered in Victoria were most likely bound and gagged to prevent detection. It is cruel, against the law, and needs to stop.

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The community also needs to understand the potentially devastating impact exotic animals can have on our environment and on agriculture. They are not suitable pets. We need the community to care because those who traffic exotic animals do not care about the animals or the environment, they only care about their profits,” she said.

At this stage the exact source of these two hedgehogs is unknown but they are not the first illegal hedgehogs to be found in Australia. Earlier detections have occurred in both Queensland and New South Wales. Online marketplaces have made it easier for traffickers to illegally sell exotic pest animals, placing many Victorians at risk of unintentionally buying illegally sourced animals and ultimately committing an offence.

Penalties for importing, keeping, breeding, and trading illegally sourced exotic pest animals like the African pygmy hedgehog can result in up to $210,000 in fines or two years in prison.

Speaking on the seriousness of the recent hedgehog discovery, Agriculture Victoria’s Biosecurity Leader – High Risk Invasive Animals, Miranda Green explains, “We are fortunate that some fast-thinking officers from Victoria Police were able to identify the animals and contact us. Any animal illegally trafficked into the country not only endures cruel treatment but also poses a significant threat to Victoria.

Ms Green stresses the local impact of having exotic animals in Victoria, warning of disease risks that could threaten our $20.2 billion dollar food and fibre sector. She adds, “People need to be aware that exotic diseases such as rabies and foot and mouth disease can be transmitted to farm animals, domestic pets, native wildlife, and even humans.

Reflecting on the disastrous spread of the European hedgehog in New Zealand, Ms Green cautions that, “The African pygmy hedgehog could similarly harm Victoria’s ecosystem if given the chance. Classified as a Prohibited Pest Animal, it threatens native wildlife like frogs, lizards, insects, and bird eggs”.

The discovery of these two hedgehogs serves as a stark reminder of the risks associated with buying any illegally sourced animals as a pet. Even one exotic animal can cause serious harm to the environment.

If you have any information about the illegal exotic pet trade, you can tell Crime Stoppers what you know, anonymously, on 1800 333 000 or at crimestoppersvic.com.au

By SAT News Desk

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