The seller of a kiwi egg on auction has been fined after DNA testing proved the egg was actually that of a black swan.
Proctor Auctions in Dunedin listed the egg as part of a taxidermy auction, which included a polar bear, a juvenile giraffe, a zebra and a leopard among items up for grabs.
But doubts over the authenticity of the egg, which had a starting bid of $80, led to the Department of Conservation investigating the origins of the egg and withdrawing it from the November 21 auction.
A polar bear, giraffe and lion up for grabs at a large taxidermy auction. Video first published in June 2021.
That investigation, released to Stuff under the Official Information Act, saw the seller of the egg issued with a $400 infringement notice.
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DOC wildlife crime principal compliance officer Dylan Swain said several members of the public contacted DOC with concerns over the sale of the kiwi egg, a protected wildlife species.
A Dunedin staff member went to the George St auction house and later uplifted the egg to investigate further, he said.
That included an interview with a person who put it up for sale who was not entirely sure if it was a kiwi egg.
‘’It was kind of unusual, I would say that,’’ Swain said.
DOC was not able to provide details about the Central Otago-based seller but said other items were not a “concern”.
Swain said DOC was satisfied the egg was old, as opposed to the seller finding it in the wild in recent times.
The egg was taken to Otago Museum for further analysis, but that was inconclusive. The egg was then sent for DNA analysis at an Auckland lab with biosecurity specialists.
That analysis confirmed the egg – lot 351 – was actually a black swan egg, which is also a protected species.
The seller, who was known to DOC, was issued with the infringement notice because he ‘’really should have known better’’, Swain said.
The seller was surprised the black swan was still a protected species, and thought it may have been a ‘’goose egg’’, which was not protected, Swain said.
‘’They fully accepted that ‘yes, it was a black swan’.’’
Swain said the seller chose not to give a full interview, which was within their rights.
‘’It does seem to me that it could be a potentially easy thing to do … sell a goose egg or a swan egg as a kiwi egg, and potentially make a gain from that.’’
DOC could have pursued prosecution, but the infringement notice – failing to comply with section 70G(1)(b)(ii) Wildlife Act 1953 by, without lawful authority, did dispose of any egg of any game, namely Cygnus Aratus, commonly known as Black Swan – was the most appropriate action, he said.
While the egg had been blown out it was important to complete enforcement action to deter anyone from retrieving an item such as a kiwi egg from the bush and blowing out the foetus, he said.
There was ‘’no way of knowing’’ how much the auction would have fetched, he said.
DOC urged places such as auction houses to do their due diligence on any native items before listing them for sale.
He said the Dunedin auction house ‘’was happy to help’’ when a potential issue had been identified.
Ronnie Proctor, of Proctor Auctions, declined to comment when approached by Stuff.
Meanwhile, the exotic items sold at Proctor Auctions all had valid paperwork, Swain said.
‘’Some areas they don’t necessarily know the rules, things like elephant ivory are quite obvious to them, but natives not necessarily so because they just don’t see them, they are not supposed to be sold.”
The department continued to investigate the sale of prohibited exotic items, including the sale of elephant ivory, which was ‘’a concern’’.
Over the past 18 months, infringement notices had been issued to people importing exotic species for the use of traditional medicines during the Covid-19 pandemic.
‘’It is a lot easier tool than always having to take someone to court,’’ Swain said.
DOC introduced the infringement system in September 2020, and by October 2021 – a month before the auction – approximately 250 infringement notices and 200 warning letters were issued with 11 offences referred for prosecution.
Around $85,000 has been paid in infringement fines, while the non-payment of fines were referred to the Ministry of Justice for recovery.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that the auction house was issued with an infringement notice. It was in fact the seller that was fined. (Amended March 24, 2022 at 7.25am)