Seller fined after DNA tests prove kiwi egg up for auction was in fact a black swan egg

The seller of a kiwi egg at auction has been fined after DNA tests proved the egg was in fact that of a black swan.

Proctor Auctions in Dunedin listed the egg as part of a taxidermy auction, which included a polar bear, juvenile giraffe, zebra and leopard among the items up for grabs.

But doubts about the authenticity of the egg, whose starting bid was $80, led the Department of Conservation to investigate the egg’s origins and remove it from the auction on 21 November.

Hamish McNeilly / Stuff

A polar bear, a giraffe and a lion up for grabs at a major taxidermy auction. Video first published in June 2021.

This investigation, made public Thing under the Official Information Act, saw the seller of the egg receive a $400 violation notice.

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Dylan Swain, the DOC’s senior wildlife crime compliance officer, said several members of the public had contacted the DOC with concerns about the sale of the kiwi egg, a protected wildlife species.

A Dunedin staff member went to the George St auction house and then lifted the egg to investigate further, he said.

A screenshot of a previously auctioned kiwi egg at Proctor's Auction, Dunedin.

Provided

A screenshot of a previously auctioned kiwi egg at Proctor’s Auction, Dunedin.

This included an interview with someone who listed it for sale who wasn’t entirely sure it was a kiwi egg.

“It was a bit unusual, I would say,” Swain said.

The DOC was unable to provide details of the Central Otago-based seller, but said the other items were not a “concern”.

Swain said DOC was convinced the egg was old, unlike the seller who found it in the wild lately.

The egg was taken to the Otago Museum for further analysis, but it was inconclusive. The egg was then sent for DNA analysis at a lab in Auckland with biosafety specialists.

This analysis confirmed that the egg – lot 351 – was in fact a black swan egg, which is also a protected species.

The seller, who was known to the DOC, received the infringement notice because he “really should have known better,” Swain said.

The seller was surprised that the black swan was still a protected species and thought it might be a “goose egg,” which was unprotected, Swain said.

The egg has been removed from the auction.

Provided

The egg has been removed from the auction.

“They fully accepted that ‘yes, it was a black swan’.”

Swain said the seller chose not to give a full interview, which was within his rights.

“Seems to me like that could be a potentially easy thing to do…sell a goose egg or a swan egg like a kiwi egg, and potentially make a profit from it. ”

The DOC could have prosecuted, but the offense notice – failing to comply with s. 70G(1)(b)(ii) of the Wildlife Act 1953 by, without lawful authority, disposed of any egg of any game, namely Cygnus Aratus, commonly referred to as the Black Swan – was the most appropriate action, he said.

The black swan egg has been listed as a kiwi egg.

PROVIDED

The black swan egg has been listed as a kiwi egg.

While the egg had been blown out, it was important to carry out 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 made, he said.

The DOC has urged venues such as auction houses to do due diligence on all native items before listing them for sale.

He said the Dunedin auction house “was happy to help” when a potential problem was identified.

Ronnie Proctor of Proctor Auctions declined to comment when approached by Thing.

Meanwhile, exotic items sold at Proctor Auctions all had valid paperwork, Swain said.

“Some areas don’t necessarily know the rules, things like elephant ivory are pretty obvious to them, but the natives aren’t necessarily because they just don’t see them, they’re not supposed to be sold.”

The department continued to investigate the sale of banned exotic items, including the sale of elephant ivory, which was “concerning”.

Over the past 18 months, infringement notices had been issued to persons importing alien species for the use of traditional medicines during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It’s a much easier tool than always having to sue someone,” Swain said.

The DOC introduced the infringement system in September 2020 and in October 2021 – a month before the auction – approximately 250 infringement notices and 200 warning letters were issued with 11 infringements referred for prosecution.

About $85,000 was paid in violation fines, while the unpaid fines were referred to the Justice Department for collection.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that the auction house had received an infringement notice. It was actually the seller who was fined. (Modified March 24, 2022 at 7:25 a.m.)

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