Alex Gordon-Stables earlier pleaded guilty to one Wildlife Act charge laid by the Department of Conservation, and yesterday (24 May) he appeared in the Palmerston District Court for sentencing.
DOC charged him with unlawful possession of wildlife after he and two unknown associates discovered the yellow-bellied sea snake/neke at Tangimoana Beach in Manawatu in April 2021.
In an interview with a DOC staff member Gordon-Stables admitted he had taken the snake – information which formed the basis of an agreed Summary of Facts filed with the court.
After discovering the animal, Gordon-Stables and his associates put the sea snake in a plastic bag and travelled to a nearby store where they sought a box to transport it. A member of the public used Google to identify the species and the danger presented by venomous reptile, noting there was no anti-venom for it in New Zealand.
Neke venom has the potential to kill small children and can cause vomiting and paralysis in adults who are bitten.
After the store visit, Gordon-Stables took it to a nearby residence. He called DOC’s 0800 DOC HOT phone line and was urged to return the snake to the sea by a DOC staff member.
He ignored the advice and took the snake 45 minutes inland to Palmerston North. During that journey, the snake died and was disposed of. Its carcass was never recovered.
DOC was alerted to the incident after three videos of it were shared to the TikTok social media platform by Gordon-Stables.
Other TikTok users commented on the videos, noting the animal was venomous and as it was protected under the Wildlife Act, it should be handed over to DOC or another wildlife agency, or left alone completely. In one video the snake is prodded and shoved with a stick, which some users said amounted to animal cruelty. Other TikTok commenters suggested the snake be killed or even eaten.
In a subsequent interview with a DOC Compliance Officer, Gordon-Stables claimed he removed the snake from the beach because he thought it might have bitten another member of the public if had he not taken it. But he also admitted sharing the videos of the snake to TikTok in an effort to get likes for his content.
DOC’s Principal Compliance Officer Dylan Swain says Gordon-Stables’ actions were aggravated by a complete disregard for the advice he was given.
“When he called the DOC hotline, he was told in no uncertain terms to return the animal to the sea or the beach,” Dylan Swain says.
“But he did not do that. Had he followed the very clear advice from DOC, and not boasted about his find on TikTok, we would not have pursued this prosecution.
“This incident could have resulted in a horrible series of events for the people involved. The snake could have bitten one of them – and with no anti-venom in New Zealand, it could have been extremely painful and dangerous.”
Dylan Swain says the case and sentence serve as a clear reminder to the community to leave native wildlife they encounter alone.
“There are hundreds of incidents every year when people interact with native wildlife when they should keep their distance.
“This is one of those incidents, captured on video and publicly shared, which formed vital evidence for our case.
“If you come across wildlife like a sea snake, don’t touch it, don’t get close to it – just call DOC, and we’ll tell you what to do.”
Dylan Swain says DOC is pursuing removal of the videos from the TikTok platform.
As well as the $500 Gordon-Stables must pay to Save the Kiwi, he was also ordered to pay $250 in court costs. He was also ordered to do 50 hours community service.
Sea snakes are rarely seen on New Zealand’s coastlines and usually only come ashore on currents when the animals are weak or unwell. They otherwise spend their entire lives at sea.