A Canberra university student was on Thursday fined for illegally possessing and importing exotic animal remains into Australia, in a case that has shed some light on the shadowy world of wildlife trade.
For years, avid collector Brent Philip Counsell, 28, dealt in what a magistrate described as a "macabre" trade of skulls and animal specimens, once selling a primate skull to the crew making the Pirates of the Caribbean movie.
In 2016 authorities from the department of environment raided Counsell's home in Deakin where they found and seized about 100 animal specimens from the living room and bedroom.
Australian environment law makes it illegal to either possess or import protected exotic animal specimens without a permit.
Over several years, Counsell either illegally imported or possessed a small primate skull - that was found threaded on a necklace - the skulls of a brown bear and a gibbon, a taxidermy buzzard, water monitor lizard, and teeth from a bear and a hippopotamus tooth.
When he spoke to investigators, Counsell admitted possessing and selling specimens from his website wulfe.com.au, which he had since shut down.
One of the charges stemmed from an admission Counsell made to authorities after they had searched his home, that he had sold a primate skull to the "people" behind the Pirates of the Caribbean movie that was filming in Brisbane.
He tried to avoid detection, and prosecutors found on his phone articles that offered tips about how to send skulls overseas without being noticed by customs.
Since he was a child, Counsell has had a passion for collecting unusual items, his solicitor Bridget Dunne told the ACT Magistrates Court at a sentence hearing on Thursday.
His interest in the field continued with tertiary education, and he was currently studying a Bachelor of Heritage, Museums and Conservation at the University of Canberra, she said.
She said the conviction would severely impact his ability to work in the field in the future.
She said his online business never turned much of a profit, and any earnings were funnelled into building his own collection.
Special Magistrate Ken Cush noted that it seemed the specimens did not command a high price. "The life of these animals is very cheap indeed," he said.
Ms Dunne said Counsell's collection was developed over several years through trade, markets, and auctions, including online.
She said the people involved shared a "relatively fluid" culture of not paying "full and appropriate heed" to the regulations.
Mr Cush said the trade of skulls and specimens was a "macabre practice", noting that Counsell had facilitated the death of endangered species by being a willing purchaser.
Federal prosecutor Alexander von Treifeldt said the man's punishment needed to send a message "that this is serious and not a risk worth taking."
Mr Cush convicted Counsell and fined him $5500 for the offences, and ordered he be subject to a two year good behaviour order.
Counsell, who lives in Queensland when not studying in Canberra, had earlier pleaded guilty to 10 counts of illegally possessing CITES endangered animal specimen, and four counts of importation.
CITES stands for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
Australian environmental laws make it illegal to posses or specimens listed under the agreement without a permit.
"The illegal wildlife trade is worth billions globally, with thousands of endangered animals killed every year for profit," the environment department said in a statement outside court.
"Wildlife trafficking is driving the decline of many species around the world and the Australian Government is committed to protecting and conserving endangered plants and animals."