Jesse Ray Hooker, a 23-year-old man from Beverley, Western Australia, has been fined $4,000 AUD ($2,900 USD) by the Perth Magistrates Court after he pled guilty to a charge of theft in regards to the now-infamous meerkitten-napping incident that transpired at Perth Zoo back in September.
His friend, 23-year-old Aimee Cummins, was also due in court on Wednesday to face a charge of receiving stolen goods, but her appearance was postponed until January due to medical reasons, according to the Associated Press. A third individual, an unnamed 31-year-old woman, has been charged with possessing stolen property.
Meanwhile, the meerkat pup has been thriving back at the zoo. Despite some concerns that the animal would be rejected by its family clan, also called a ‘mob’ or ‘gang’, the youngster was lovingly welcomed back by the other meerkats when reintroduced soon after the heist. To honor his unusual early life experiences, zoo staff have named the meerkat Salama, which means “safe” in the East African language of Kiswahili.
Given that everything worked out in the end, let’s take a minute to explore the absolutely ridiculous details of the crime, which have now been publicly revealed thanks to the prosecution’s statements and Mr Hooker’s admissions.
As reported by ABC News, Hooker was visiting the zoo with Cummins on September 19 when he was dazzled by the then-month-old meerkat’s adorableness.
“[He thought] it was very cute indeed,” Hooker’s defense attorney, Chad Silver, said. “He fell in love with it.”
Determined to make the tiny animal his own (he admitted to police he “thought it would be cool as a pet”), Hooker bent over – or leaped over, depending on whose description you believe – the fence of the meerkat enclosure and scooped the pup up. He put the young mammal in a cooler bag he had been carrying and made haste out of the zoo. He and Cummings then hopped in their car and headed to a south Perth McDonalds for food, before beginning the 130-kilometer (80-mile) trip back to Beverley. The duo apparently played loud music to cover the distressed meerkat’s cries during this time.
The helpless meerkat was then kept at a house – it has not yet been disclosed whose house this was – alongside four dogs and one cat for two days before the police, having zeroed in on Hooker and his alleged co-conspirators, came to search the premises.
“The simplicity of the offense meant the police were able to capture and follow up the meerkat very quickly,” Silver reportedly told the court, adding that Hooker was planning to return the animal when the police arrived.
“Simplicity” seems like a kind euphemism.
An article in The West Australian states that the maximum penalty for Hooker’s charge was $24,000 or two years jail, but the judge decided on a mere $4,000 because he confessed. According to his attorney, Mr Hooker was very remorseful about his actions. He wrote a letter to Perth Zoo apologizing for the distress he caused (keepers originally feared the pup had been snatched by a bird) and offering to do community service as penance. The zoo politely declined.
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