Chinese university student Zhenbo Gao has been captivated by Australia’s native wildlife since the moment he set foot in the country almost three years ago.
By day, he studied event management at Brisbane’s Griffith University but at night, the 24-year-old prowled the Nathan campus in search of animals he could find only in Australia.
He took pleasure hunting lizards, petting possums, chasing koalas and gave a wide berth to a passing goanna.
In May last year, in an isolated stretch of campus, he finally came across a creature he had only ever read about – an echidna.
Gao couldn’t resist picking up the spiky mammal, but dropped it when he was pricked by its sharp spines.
He grabbed hold of it a second time, and hurled it from a bridge to see if it could survive.
It did, barely.
The injured echidna crawled away, trying to escape by balling up under a ramp and burying itself in the dirt to hide.
Gao threw rocks the size of a football and used a stick to prize the injured mammal into the open before it died.
An autopsy report revealed the “terrified” echidna suffered significant pain and died from blunt force trauma.
Gao told RSPCA inspectors he had never seen an echidna before and was “curious”, tossing it from the second-storey height to see if it would outlast the fall.
He claimed he never intended to kill the animal, but wanted to take it home and study it.
That curiosity cost Gao, who pleaded guilty to animal cruelty during a Holland Park Magistrates Court hearing on Wednesday.
Defence lawyers told the court he was “deeply remorseful” and had brought great shame to his family.
Gao’s mother travelled from China to support her son but was “disappointed and shocked” by his behaviour.
In a reference tendered to the court, she said his curiosity meant he did not always make the best decisions.
He was spared a recorded conviction, but ordered to serve 18 months probation and carry out 180 hours of community service.
He was also banned from keeping an animal for five years and ordered to pay restitution to the RSPCA, which was bitterly disappointed by the sentence.
“Sometimes we question what exactly you have to do to an animal to end up in jail,” RSPCA spokeswoman Tracey Jackson said.
“This was a defenceless animal. There was no explanation for what was done to the animal except sheer curiosity and, quite frankly, that is alarming.”