This week highlights World Wildlife Conservation Day - a global day to raise awareness of wildlife poaching, trade, and trafficking.
If not for the Border Control TV series, I probably wouldn't know much about the illegal capture and trafficking of Australian wildlife. But who could forget the heartbreaking images of Blue Tongue lizards wrapped in socks and bound in gaffer tape. Wild caught only to starve and suffocate to death in the mail.
A huge range of Australian wildlife is unique to Australia - making it very attractive to collectors and pet owners wanting exotic species. Once native wildlife is trafficked overseas it can also be on-sold to breeders to feed the market at times of the year when native species are in short supply.
Historical exports of Australian native species have built whole pet sectors overseas. Sugar Gliders as pets in America are an example of this. Millions of captive bred gliders are sold as pets every year.
Establishing an overseas pet breeding pipeline may be behind a recently reported discovery of three Wallabies in Cao Bang, a province in northern Vietnam.
The illegal industry is estimated at up to US$23 billion annually - with commonly legally traded, captive bred native wildlife selling at up to 10 times their value on the illegal wildlife black market.
That's a powerful financial incentive for criminals who know that the provenance of the wildlife they trade isn't easily able to be verified.
How do wildlife crime investigators prove that a shingleback lizard (one of the most common victims of illegal wildlife poaching in Australia) was wild caught or captive bred?
There is hope.
University of NSW in collaboration with Taronga Conservation Society Australia, University of Technology Sydney and Australia's Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation have developed a revolutionary way to determine if a confiscated animal is being illegally trafficked by checking chemical markers present in keratin such as quills, scales, feathers, and hair.
This new technique identifies with more than 96 per cent accuracy whether the animal has been eating a natural, wild diet or a captive diet.
As a result, it's now possible to identify whether an animal is captive-bred or wild, with future research looking at identifying where in the world an animal has come from.
This ground-breaking Australian research may finally put more prosecution power in the hands of enforcement the world over and make it harder for wildlife traffickers to thrive.
If you see or suspect that Australian wildlife is being trapped, sold without appropriate permits, kept without appropriate permits, or trafficked interstate and overseas illegally then report it to the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water.
- Lisette Mill is a natural resource manager and biodiversity survey innovator from south west Victoria.