Spiders and skulls seized at airport

HAIRY CRITTER: The Primary Industries Ministry confiscated a tarantula from travellers trying to enter Auckland.
HAIRY CRITTER: The Primary Industries Ministry confiscated a tarantula from travellers trying to enter Auckland.

A dozen tiger penises, a monkey's head, two suitcases of live parrots and a taxidermied baby grizzly bear were some of the oddities seized by government officials at New Zealand borders over the past year.

One woman even had live lizards crawling through her handbag.

The Primary Industries Ministry (MPI) confiscated a tarantula, a beaver skull and several live goldfish from travellers trying to enter Auckland. And a kangaroo paw bottle opener, a Christmas tree in a can, packaged frog fat and an entire bees' nest were among the quirky items seized in Christchurch.

But officials also detected more sinister concealments.

A man questioned by New Zealand Customs officers said he was wearing a colostomy bag which was actually a girdle containing $600,000 worth of methamphetamine, in 2009. Another traveller was found to have swallowed 172 packages of the class A drug in an attempt to smuggle it into the country.

MPI South Island manager for border clearance Michael Walker said "some fairly eye-popping things" were confiscated on a daily basis.

"They may be wacky to members of the public but it's the actual biosecurity risk we are searching for."

Walker, who has also worked for customs and the Conservation Department, said he had come across some "rather peculiar things' in his time, including live ants, parrots and lizard eggs.

Officials had also intercepted one man wearing a vest concealing 43 parrot eggs and a hatchling.

As soon as an aircraft touched down on New Zealand soil it presented a biosecurity risk and MPI staff were involved to "disinfect" the plane and risk-screen passengers, Walker said.

"Roving" officers profiled travellers continuously, looking for unusual behaviour or anyone who was "walking funny or dressed funny".

"Biosecurity is vitally important to New Zealand more so than any other country because our primary industries underpin our financial success," he said.

While some of the items smuggled in appeared harmless, if they were released they could "bring our primary industry to its knees".

Seized organic matter was placed in certified bins which were later destroyed in an incinerator under "strict control", he said.

Mark Day, manager of drug investigations for New Zealand Customs, said organised crime was behind most of the drug-smuggling attempts.

One of the most unusual incidents he had encountered was a man who had swallowed 1.2 kilograms of methamphetamine in 5g packages.

"If one of those [172] packages had perforated, it's a death sentence," he said.

There have been two cases of internal drug concealment so far this year and Day said it wasn't uncommon for couriers to give themselves up upon arrival into New Zealand.

"There is so much tension and when they get to us they are an absolute wreck. Some people are ready to explode and just want out of the situation," he said.

Another "weird" occurrence involved a man in a wheelchair carrying a dance mat in his luggage, which upon inspection held 2kg worth of cocaine.

Sunday Star Times