A woman who strapped nearly 1,000 succulents and endangered cacti to her body in an attempt to smuggle them into New Zealand has been sentenced to 100 hours of community work, the country’s biosecurity ministry said.
Wenqing Li, 38, who also goes by the name Wendy, was caught bringing plants and seeds from China to Auckland International Airport, where the goods were seized, on two occasions in 2019.
In the first incident, in March 2019, Li had stuffed 947 cacti and succulents into stockings and strapped them to her body. The hoard contained eight endangered and threatened species and was worth more than 10,000 New Zealand dollars ($7,200), the Ministry for Primary Industries, which is responsible for biosecurity, said in a press release Wednesday.
Li, who is from the North Island city of Auckland, had attempted to dispose of the plants in airport toilets after attracting the attention of a police dog. But authorities said they found a “large amount” of plant materials around the toilet facilities, including in a rubbish bin.
In a separate incident in July 2019, Li was found to have hidden 142 unauthorized seeds inside iPad covers in her luggage and more than 200 garden ornaments and plant pots — carrying a snail and pieces of tree fern stem — which were all wrapped in wet paper.
Li pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced in the Manukau District Court on Tuesday to 12 months of “intensive supervision” and 100 hours of community service.
Intensive supervision is a community-based sentence and typically requires an offender to report regularly to a probation officer, and can include other specific requirements imposed by the court.
Simon Anderson, regional team manager at the Ministry for Primary Industries, said the smuggling of unauthorized plants put “New Zealand’s biosecurity at risk” and that the sentencing was a “good reminder that anyone who smuggles plants or other endangered species into New Zealand can expect to be prosecuted.”
“Our country is fortunate to be free of many of the invasive pests and diseases found in other countries,” he added.
“Our economy and way of life is dependent on keeping these threats out of the country.”