Wildlife trafficker’s jail term reduced

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A wildlife trafficker who herded native animals into toy trucks and loudspeakers before attempting to ship them overseas has had his ‘unreasonable’ prison sentence reduced.

Zheyuan Qiu, 34, pleaded guilty in NSW District Court to 19 counts of attempted export of live native animals and possession of a controlled species.

He was sentenced to a five-year prison term in February 2021 for attempting to mail 17 packages containing 48 reptiles crammed into speakers, toy trucks and other household items bound for Hong Kong and Taiwan.

On Friday, the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal sentenced him again to three years and 10 months, with his period of non-conditional release reduced from 10 months to two years.

Court of Appeal Judge Richard Cavanagh, supported by Justices Robertson Wright and Fabian Gleeson, said the previous sentence was “unreasonable or manifestly unjust”.

“There was no international travel or framing work. The applicant appears to have responded to Facebook’s requests,” he said.

During the initial sentencing hearing, Qiu said he had a low income and was motivated to earn extra money to support his family in China, despite having admitted to committing acts of animal cruelty.

Animals sent by the Postal Service included pebble-backed and blue-tongued lizards, a red-bellied black snake, carpet and diamond pythons, and several species of turtles.

On two occasions, Border Force agents found animals dead from dehydration.

Judge Cavanagh noted that despite Qiu’s attempt to export a number of native animals for 14 months, the crimes fell below “mean objective gravity”.

“While the number of specimens to be exported each time was only small, the applicant made repeated attempts to export,” he said.

Qiu’s accomplice, Ut Lei Lei, was sentenced to a two-year community term.

Former federal environment minister Sussan Ley said at the time of the initial convictions they followed a two-year investigation into criminal syndicates involved in the smuggling of native wildlife.

“The details of this case are horrific and unfortunately all too commonplace,” she said.

“Native Australian reptiles are highly sought after overseas in what is a dangerously lucrative market supplying businesses such as overseas pet shops that exclusively sell Australian reptiles.”

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