A MAN who thought it would be “cool” to steal a baby meerkat from Perth Zoo has been fined $4000 after pleading guilty to theft.
The Perth Magistrates Court heard today that Jesse Ray Hooker (23) stole it during a zoo visit in September and used a cooler bag to smuggle the tiny animal out of the zoo and take it back to his home town of Beverley.
Defence lawyer Chad Silver said the baby meerkat came over to Hooker, who leaned over the hip-high glass fence and picked her up.
“He fell in love and made the stupid decision to put it in his cooler bag,” he said.
However, the police prosecutors disputed this version of events, saying Hooker jumped into the enclosure.
After Hooker put the meerkat in his cooler bag, he left the zoo with a friend, Aimee Cummins.
Mr Silver said Hooker muffled the sounds of the distressed baby meerkat from inside the cooler bag by playing loud music.
The pair then went to McDonald’s in South Perth before driving back to Beverley.
The police prosecutor said Hooker kept the baby meerkat at a property in Beverley, along with four dogs and a cat, despite the Zoo’s public pleas for its return.
When police executed a search warrant two days later, he made a full admission at Beverley Police Station.
The magistrate deliberated over the actual value of the meerkat pup.
Previously, the court had heard that the value of a meerkat pup was $21,281.
However this was said to be the annual cost of keeping a meerkat at the zoo and the magistrate, with agreement from the prosecutor and the defence lawyer, determined Hooker’s penalty should be based on the potential cost of a meerkat as being between $1000 and $10,000.
“This was a blatant act of stealing at a public facility, Perth Zoo, and a very deliberate endeavour by Mr Hooker to enter a closed area,” the magistrate said.
The magistrate accepted Hooker was unlikely to reoffend but refused a request for a spent conviction.
The maximum penalty available was two years’ imprisonment.
Mr Silver told the court Hooker was willing to meet with the zoo and had submitted a formal apology.
Outside court Hooker fronted but would not speak to a large media contingent, where he was asked how it could be possible to simply lean over a fence described as 1.2m-1.5m high to take the baby animal.
His lawyer disputed the assertion that the diminutive Hooker had jumped into the enclosure to snatch the animal and said that his feet were still on the ground when he reached over.
“It was just a case that you could reach over and touch the ground effectively,” Mr Silver said.
Mr Silver said the level of community angst over the matter was understandable, but urged people to channel their passion into positive action by supporting the zoo.
He declined to elaborate on Hooker’s thoughts in deciding to take the meerkat.
“I would encourage people to go to the zoo and see these cute meerkats and experience it for themselves,” Mr Silver said.
“They are a very cute animal and they are very intelligent and they very friendly indeed.
If you go to the zoo you will realise how cute they are.”
He said Hooker has provided a formal apology to the zoo and has offered to apologise in person.
Hooker’s friend, Ms Cummins (23), who was charged with receiving, did not appear in court today.
The magistrate received a note saying she was in a medical facility.
Ms Cummins was ordered to appear in court on January 16.
The news comes as a third person was charged over the theft, with a 31-year-old Beverley woman charged with possessing stolen property.