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New Zealand Sentences Cactus Smuggler Caught With 947 Plants Strapped To Her Body

It's a prickly situation.

New Zealand authorities have sentenced a woman who tried in 2019 to smuggle nearly 1,000 cacti and succulents into the country strapped to her body.

The woman, Wenqing Li, 38, pleaded guilty to violating biosecurity laws after she was caught twice with plants and seeds at Auckland International Airport when returning home to the city from China, New Zealand’s Ministry for Primary Industries said in a statement on Wednesday.

She was sentenced to intensive supervision for 12 months and 100 hours of community work.

On March 24, 2019, Li strapped stockings containing 947 succulents and cacti, valued at over $10,000, to her body and attempted to bring them into the country. The cacti included eight endangered and threatened species. She tried to dispose of the items in the airport toilets after attracting the attention of a detector dog, authorities said.

In a separate incident on July 23, 2019, Li was found in possession of 142 seeds hidden in packaged iPad covers in her luggage. She was also carrying plant pots and ornaments, which were found to contain a snail and pieces of tree fern. They were wrapped in mouldy, wet paper, also a potential source of disease.

Stockings filled with plants were strapped to the woman's body.
Stockings filled with plants were strapped to the woman's body.

The island nation has some of the world’s strictest biosecurity laws to protect its agriculture and biodiversity.

“This sentencing serves as a good reminder that anyone who smuggles plants or other endangered species into New Zealand can expect to be prosecuted,” said Simon Anderson, the investigations manager for the MPI department’s northern region.

“Biosecurity New Zealand takes its role of protecting New Zealand from biosecurity threats very seriously. Our country is fortunate to be free of many of the invasive pests and diseases found in other countries.”

According to authorities, the woman was a seller and trader of succulents on TradeMe, a classifieds website similar to Craigslist.

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