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Man caught at airport with 44 lizards in pants

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — A German man who stuffed 44 small lizards into his underwear before trying to board a flight has been sentenced to prison in New Zealand for plundering the country's protected species.

Hans Kurt Kubus, 58, will spend 14 weeks behind bars and must pay a 5,000 New Zealand dollar ($3,540) fine before being deported to Germany as soon as he is released, District Court Judge Colin Doherty ruled on Tuesday.

Kubus was caught by wildlife officials at Christchurch International Airport on South Island in December, about to board an overseas flight with 44 geckos and skinks in a hand-sewn package concealed in his underwear.

He admitted trading in exploited species without a permit and hunting absolutely protected wildlife without authority, pleading guilty to two charges under the Wildlife Act and five under the Trade in Endangered Species Act.

Department of Conservation prosecutor Mike Bodie told the court Kubus could have faced potential maximum penalties of NZ$500,000 ($355,000) and six months in prison.

Bodie said the department sought a deterrent sentence for "the most serious case of its kind detected in New Zealand for a decade or more."

The geckos may have been worth 2,000 euros ($2,800) each on the European market, he noted.

Customs records showed that Kubus had also been to New Zealand in 2001, 2004, 2008, and 2009. In 2008, he had been with a Swiss reptile dealer.

Doherty said Kubus had come to New Zealand and set about poaching the animals in a premeditated way which would have had an impact on particular colonies.

There was potential for Kubus to end up with far more animals than he could have housed in his own collection and the rest would have been sold.

"I don't think you necessarily came here to steal to sell, but I am sure the fact that you might have had excess was figured into your thinking," Doherty told Kubus.

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