Man Fined Thousands For Aussie Zoo Meerkat Theft
A man has been fined $4000 for stealing a baby meerkat from Perth Zoo because "he thought it would be cool as a pet" and "fell in love with it".
When Jesse Ray Hooker and co-accused Aimee Cummins, both 23, went to the zoo on September 19, he reached over the waist-high glass barrier to grab the newborn.
He hid it in a cooler bag and played loud music to muffle the sounds of its distressed cries.
The pair went to McDonald's, then took the meerkitten home, adding it to a menagerie of four dogs and one cat.
It was found two days later during a search of a house in the town of Beverley, in WA's Wheatbelt region, about 130km east of Perth.
Hooker entered a guilty plea at his second appearance in Perth Magistrates Court on Wednesday.
Defence lawyer Chad Silver claimed his client intended to bring it back after seeing media reports of the theft, but police arrived before he could.
Mr Silver said meerkats were known for being friendly and it ran over to him.
Hooker found it "very cute indeed" and promptly scooped it up, the lawyer said.
"He fell in love with it," Mr Silver said.
The police prosecutor said the only explanation Hooker offered was "it would be cool as a pet".
Mr Silver said Hooker had no intention to sell the animal and there was debate in the court about how to value the animal for prosecution purposes.
The police prosecutor said that because of the black market, zoos did not buy animals but traded them, so a figure of $21,281 was given to estimate the annual cost of caring for the pup.
While Mr Silver argued it was a "very simple offence" with "no sophistication", the prosecutor said it involved deceit as Hooker actively hid the animal.
She suggested a suspended prison sentence, saying trusting visitors was crucial to the zoo being able to function.
The magistrate described the crime as a "very deliberate exercise" involving a well-liked animal that was considered a significant loss to the public and zoo.
But given Hooker's young age and record of only traffic offences, he was fined and ordered to pay court costs of $205.
He was denied a spent conviction, which means it will appear on his record.
Outside court, Mr Silver said his client had offered to visit the zoo to deliver a personal apology.
"He accepts that the behaviour was stupid."
Cummins, who has been charged with receiving, did not appear in person, with Mr Silver citing medical reasons and intense media pressure.
The magistrate was unimpressed and adjourned her matter until January 16, saying she must appear in person.
Mr Silver said Cummins would enter a plea then.