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N.Z. airport security catches woman with 900 cactus parts under her clothes

New Zealand authorities confiscated more than 900 cacti and succulents from a woman on Mar. 26, 2019. Some were stuffed inside stockings. New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries

New Zealand is sticking it to a convicted cactus smuggler by pricking her with 100 hours of community service after she was caught trying to sneak hundreds of prohibited plants into the country under her clothes.

The cacti caper dates back to 2019, when Wenqing Li, a.k.a. Wendy Li, was arrested on two separate occasions at the Auckland International Airport. Authorities say Li was flying home with the plants from China to sell them online, in violation of New Zealand’s biosecurity laws.

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Li was first caught on March 24, 2019, when she arrived at the airport from China with 947 cacti and succulents strapped to her body in stockings. The pokey packages were worth an estimated NZ$10,000, and contained eight endangered and threatened species, according to the Ministry for Primary Industries.

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Several plant parts with writing on them are shown after they were confiscated from a smuggler at Auckland International Airport in New Zealand on Mar. 26, 2019. New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries

Officials say a detector dog sniffed out the prickly passenger, and she immediately went into panic mode. Li dashed into the men’s room and tried to flush the plants, but officers caught up with her and prevented her from doing so. They recovered a “large amount of plant material” from the bathroom, “including three stockings filled with succulents and cacti in one of the rubbish bins,” the ministry said.

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Li was caught a second time on July 23, 2019, when she tried to smuggle 142 unauthorized seeds into the country using packaged iPad covers in her luggage. Officials say she also had over 200 plant pots and garden ornaments “wrapped in mouldy wet paper.” The pots contained a snail and a piece of tree fern stem, authorities say.

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A stocking stuffed with cactus parts is shown at Auckland International Airport in New Zealand on Mar. 26, 2019. New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries

Li pleaded guilty to the smuggling incidents and was sentenced to 100 hours of community service and one year of “intense supervision” earlier this week.

Ministry investigator Simon Anderson hailed the sentence as an example to others who might try to smuggle foreign species into the country.

“It’s important to remember that bringing unauthorized plants into the country by any method, whether smuggling through the border in person or receiving products by mail, puts New Zealand’s biosecurity at risk,” he said in a statement.

“Our economy and way of life is dependent on keeping these threats out of the country.”

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