By Oliver Milman
John Kolettas pleaded guilty after skulls and teeth from orangutans, bears and tigers were found in his Sydney home
A Sydney teacher caught with Australia’s largest recorded haul of illegal wildlife items, including skulls and teeth from orangutans, bears and tigers, has been given a suspended prison sentence.
John Kolettas pleaded guilty in the Parramatta local court last year after 78 items were seized from his western Sydney home.
The body parts were from 24 threatened species, including 11 orangutan skulls and 25 other skulls of monkeys, bears, lynx, bears and a tiger. Other illegally held items included teeth and skins from orangutans, lynx and otters, as well as a feather headdress made from a bird of paradise.
Kolettas, 44, was convicted of 24 charges of possessing illegal wildlife products and given a 12-month suspended sentence. He will be required to perform 384 hours of community service.
He was also fined $4,000 for firearms offences uncovered during the search, which was undertaken by the federal Department of Environment.
The items seized are listed under an international convention, of which Australia is a part, aimed at tackling the growing trade in endangered species. Under Australian law, it is illegal to import or possess these species, or parts of them, without a permit.
The Department of Environment said Kolettas’ haul was the largest in its history.
“Wildlife trafficking is a cruel and often barbaric trade that has become more widespread and lucrative and is now valued at billions of dollars worldwide,” the department said in a statement.
“The illegal trade in wildlife is also driving the decline of many species around the world. The community – particularly collectors, travellers and online shoppers – should be aware of what they are buying, what it is made of, and where it is from.”
The International Fund for Animal Welfare said it was disappointed Kolettas was not jailed for his crimes. The maximum penalty for the offences is 10 years in prison.
“This was a very serious case, the guilty man had knowingly broken the law over a number of years, even requesting that endangered animals be killed and their body parts sent to him. He deserved to go to prison,” said Isabel McCrea, IFAW Oceania regional director.
“The Department of Environment investigators did a great job in catching him and bringing him to court and the law allows for custodial sentences for this level of offence. This does Australia’s reputation as a strong force against the illegal wildlife trade great disservice.”
Australia’s first custodial sentence for wildlife smuggling was handed down in Western Australia last year, with a Chinese national given a 12-month term for the attempted smuggling of 30 native lizards.