Christmas Eve, 2014: Boys and girls eagerly await the appearance of Santa Claus, bringing presents to all via his nine-reindeer-powered sleigh. We have questioned whether this form of travel violates Australian aviation laws, but there is one other important consideration. Is it even legal for Santa to import nine reindeer into Australia on a regular basis?
Part 13A of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) (EPBC Act) regulates the import of wildlife into Australia. Division 2 concerns the import of “CITES specimens” (those under appendices to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)  ATS 29), while Div 4 concerns the import of “regulated live specimens”.
Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) are not a CITES species. Members of the Cervidae family do appear in CITES appendices, but the reindeer is not one of them. However, reindeer do fall under the definition of a “regulated live specimen” under Div 4 of the EPBC Act.
Under the Act, the Minister is required to establish a List of Specimens taken to be Suitable for Live Import. Part 1 of that List includes unregulated animals such as cats and dogs, while Pt 2 includes animals for which restrictions apply.
Reindeer do not appear in Pt 1 of the List and so are considered “regulated live specimens”. As they also do not appear in Pt 2, they do not qualify for an import permit under s 303EN of the Act. It is possible for Santa to make an application under s 303EE to amend the List to include reindeer, however this process can take some time. In the meanwhile, if Santa enters Australia with no permit for his reindeer, he will be liable to a fine of 1,000 penalty units ($170,000) or 10 years’ imprisonment.
With a little imagination, we can stretch the law to provide Santa some leeway for his unorthodox travel methods. Section 303GW of the EPBC Act specifies that where an animal is brought into Australia “as part of an aircraft’s stores” then it is not taken to have been imported into Australia.
An aircraft is defined by the Act as “an apparatus that can derive support in the atmosphere from the reactions of the air”. Since an “apparatus” does not necessarily have to be mechanical, but can include any complex structure or system (eg the apparatus of the judicial system), the combined apparatus of reindeer and sleigh might be considered an aircraft, so long as its ability to fly can be demonstrated to be from “reactions of the air”, rather than Christmas magic.
The term “aircraft’s stores” is defined by s 130C of the Customs Act 1901 (Cth) to include stores for the service of an aircraft. It is a stretch to believe that the reindeer are themselves “stores” necessary for the service of the sleigh, but then, isn’t it a stretch to believe in flying reindeer in the first place?
For more information about The Laws of Australia, click here.