[Australian] Customs and Quarantine officers have broken a smuggling racket in which snakes and lizards were sent as gifts, concealed in the hollow spaces of pottery figurines and garden gnomes.

Garden gnomes sent to an address in Blacktown were seized on June 10 when a customs officer saw snakes moving in the package, a customs spokesman said.

Two snakes and three lizards were found inside the gnomes at the Australia Post Gateway Facility at Clyde in Sydney's west.

The package was resealed and the reptiles, sent from Britain, euthanased because of quarantine concerns.

A day later, an X-ray machine found five snakes and five lizards in a set of pottery ornaments. They were also euthanased.

The second shipment of animals, from a different address in Britain, were destined for Wilberforce, north-west of Sydney.

Customs investigators searched both houses. A spokesman would not say what was found, but said their inquiries were continuing.

Among the animals imported, none of which were venomous, were Australian pythons and geckos.

"Why the hell would someone want to smuggle coal to Newcastle?" a Quarentine spokesman said.

Customs' national manager for investigations, Richard Janecko, said trafficking wildlife was a serious issue and had serious implications for all involved.

"Such criminal action is also a cruel practice which frequently results in the deaths of animals in transit," he said.

Smuggling wildlife carries a maximum penalty of 10 years' imprisonment and a $110,000 fine.