A woman who kept a baby meerkat in her bedroom after it was stolen from the Perth Zoo has received a harsher penalty than the man who took the animal from its enclosure.
Aimee Cousins shook and sobbed as she was given a seven-month suspended jail term after pleading guilty to a charge of receiving the four-week-old meerkit in September last year.
In November, Jesse Ray Hooker, an associate of Cousins, was fined $4000 after admitting he jumped the glass wall of the meerkat enclosure and took the animal.
He told the court he had done so because he had fallen in love with it and wanted it as a pet.
In sentencing Cousins, Chief Magistrate Steven Heath said while he had not heard the facts of Hooker’s offence, he had “had difficulty accepting that the fine was an appropriate penalty”.
He said in his view keeping an animal stolen from the zoo was a very serious offence and warranted a seven-month term of imprisonment.
At that point Cousins cried out “what?” and collapsed into a chair before Mr Heath went on to explain that the term would be suspended for 12 months.
The court was told Cousins “had full knowledge” that the meerkat had been stolen when she and Hooker left the zoo car park.
The animal was found two days later at Cousins’ Beverley home in a storage chest in her bedroom.
Her lawyer John Rando said his client weighed only 39 kilograms and suffered from depression and anxiety, and had not been able to work for several years.
He said the meerkat was returned to the zoo in “good health” and had been reintegrated in its enclosure.
Mr Rando requested that Cousins be granted a spent conviction order, which meant she would not have a criminal record, but that was refused by Mr Heath.
The court heard police and zoo staff issued pleas for the return of the animal, and Mr Heath noted that despite those calls Cousins kept the animal until it was recovered by police.
Cousins made no comment as she left court supported by a friend.