Theft charge laid in curious case of Perth Zoo’s missing meerkat

The baby meerkat after being found late last week.
The baby meerkat after being found late last week.

IT reads like a script to Meerkat Manor meets Ace Ventura Pet Detective but the curious disappearance of a meerkat kit from Perth Zoo last week proved far more serious than a television re-run.

Police confirmed yesterday they had charged a 22-year-old man with stealing and a 23-year-old woman with receiving, after a raid on a house in the Wheatbelt town of Beverley on Friday evening, about 48 hours after the weeks-old meerkat disappeared from the zoo.

Present at the raid was the zoo’s senior veterinarian Simone Vitali and police officers from Kensington, Cannington Detectives, Beverley and York.

Kensington Sergeant Dean Kelland agreed the meerkat mystery had been an investigation like none he had worked on before.

He was thankful it came with a satisfying outcome of swiftly returning the animal to zookeepers.

“I don’t think there’s anything normal about anything being stolen from a zoo,” he said. “You hear about it, you hear rumours about things like this, but being involved in it is a completely different thing.

“It definitely got us standing up like a meerkat, I suppose.

“We were straight on to it the minute we had the file and the guys and girls ran with it all day until conclusion.”

The baby is now back at Perth Zoo’s meerkat enclosure recovering from its stressful ordeal under the watchful eye of zookeepers, who are hopeful the meerkat mob will welcome back its youngest member.

“We will be trying to get him back with the group and to see what their reactions are,” Ms Vitali said.

“The keepers will be watching that very closely and we’ll be assessing that really minute by minute to make sure everything is going fine.”

Initially unsure whether the little critter had been taken by a predatory bird or perhaps stolen, zoo staff launched an immediate and comprehensive search on Wednesday night.

Police soon became involved and followed up numerous leads that led them to a house in Beverley.

“There was one particular officer from Kensington who from start to finish yesterday (Friday) was involved and she did some great work in identifying a location where we thought the meerkat was,” Sgt Kelland said.

“I knew the type of officers that were on it and I knew they would do every single thing and chase down every single lead in order to make sure that we had a successful outcome.”

While police and zoo staff continue to investigate how those responsible managed to sneak the meerkat disappeared from the zoo, Ms Vitali said the zoo would have to look at increasing security around all of its exhibits.

“You’ve got these open facilities, which you need to give the animals good welfare – you like to have them open with lots of sunlight, lots of air and lots of height – and when you have animals in those facilities there is always the risk of theft, there is always the risk of predatory birds and that’s something we’re going to need to review quite carefully now that this has happened to see if we need to make changes,” she said.

The man and woman will be summonsed to appear in court at a later date.