A man who claims he “fell in love” with a meerkat pup has been fined $4000 after pleading guilty to stealing the animal from its enclosure at Perth Zoo in September.
Perth Magistrates Court has been told Jesse Ray Hooker took the four-week-old pup on September 19 because he wanted it as a pet.
Outside court, Hooker’s lawyer Chad Silver said his client was remorseful and had formally apologised to the zoo.
“As a sign of the support to the Perth Zoo, our client has offered to visit the zoo and apologise sincerely for his behaviour,” he said.
“But we would all remind the community that the anger that they felt was acceptable, and that they should visit the zoo as a sign of the support rather than just writing emails.
“I would encourage people to go to the zoo and see these cute meerkats and experience it for themselves. They are a very cute animal, they’re very intelligent, and they are very friendly indeed.”
Hooker ‘scooped’ up meerkat on first zoo visit
Mr Silver said there had been “significant social media reaction” to the theft.
It was the first time 23-year-old Hooker had visited the zoo.
The police prosecutor said Hooker jumped the glass wall to take the meerkat but his own lawyer said he’d leaned over and “scooped” it up after it “came running over to him”.
He then put it in a bag.
Loud music played to muffle meerkat noise
The meerkat was four weeks old at the time it was stolen.
The court heard Hooker and a co-accused took it to an address in the Wheatbelt town of Beverley.
Mr Silver said that two days after the theft, his client was “in the process of returning it”.
“The simplicity of the offence meant the police were able to capture and follow up the meerkat very quickly,” he said.
The court was told Hooker played loud music in his car to muffle the sounds of the meerkat so that his friend, a co-accused, couldn’t hear it.
The woman who accompanied him to the zoo has been charged with receiving stolen goods, but Mr Silver said she played no role.
“The co-accused had no knowledge of the stealing of the animal at all,” he said.
The woman, who’s in her early 20s, is scheduled to appear in court again in January.
The animal was valued at more than $21,000 because that was the yearly cost of keeping it, as opposed to a purchase price, the court was told.
The magistrate said the theft was a “blatant act of stealing” at a public facility.
He rejected a request for a spent conviction, but he took into account Hooker’s early plea when fining him $4000.
A third person, a 31-year-old woman from Beverley, has been charged with possession of the baby meerkat.
She is set to face Northam Magistrates Court next month.