Three protected native geckos have been returned to the wild after years in illegal captivity, the Department of Conservation announced today.
The Department says the release of the lizards in the Southern Alps comes just a few days before the man responsible for their long stint in captivity appeared for sentencing in the Palmerston North District Court.
Halcombe man, Richard Brosnan, faced two representative charges under the Wildlife Act relating to the unauthorised holding of 63 geckos and skinks – from 11 different species – and the case taken by DOC culminated today when he was fined $7000. The fine will be paid to the Department.
DOC says the majority of the seized animals have been rehomed with authorised keepers across the country.
It says these animals couldn’t be released to the wild after being held in captivity for a long time.
DOC Principal Investigations Officer, Matt Davis says the Department became aware of Mr Brosnan’s unauthorised keeping and trading of the animals through a series of Facebook posts.
In November 2022, DOC executed a search warrant at a residential address where Mr Brosnan was living, and discovered several cages in which he was keeping the animals.
In an interview with DOC investigators, Mr Brosnan claimed he had been authorised to keep lizards by the Wildlife Service – a government entity which ceased to exist after the creation of DOC in 1987. However, he couldn’t provide a copy of the permit, and DOC staff could not find any record of it despite extensive efforts searching archives.
Mr Davis says DOC had authorised Brosnan to keep Grand and Otago skinks but those authorisations expired in 2013 and 2016. He did not apply to renew them, and when DOC investigated in 2022, he was not authorised to keep any of the 11 species he had in captivity.
“Mr Brosnan knew from his previous experience what his obligations and responsibilities were – and he continued keeping lizards despite not holding the relevant permit,” Mr Davis said.
“For DOC, that is unacceptable, and it motivated us to take action which has led to today’s court hearing – an outcome which could’ve been avoided.”
He said DOC’s investigation resulted in good information about where the three West Coast green geckos (Naultinus tuberculatus) had come from, and how long they had been in captivity, so they were able to be returned to their natural habitat.
The effort to recover the three geckos returned to the South Island was supported by Wildbase (Massey University), where staff played a crucial role in care for the animals, including surgery to remove infertile eggs from the three West Coast green gecko.
Air New Zealand supported the release of the geckos by flying them south from Palmerston North to Christchurch for the translocation.
“We were really pleased to put these precious animals back into their natural habitat. It’s a small but important win for conservation, and for the species,” said Mr Davis.