Cat out of the bag

Southern Gazette (Belmont) - - NEWS - Matt Zis

Jesse Hooker stole a four-weekold meerkit­ten from Perth Zoo and has been fined $4000 af­ter plead­ing guilty.

THE man who stole a baby meerkat from Perth Zoo did it be­cause he thought it would be “cool” to have the an­i­mal as a pet.

Jesse Ray Hooker (23) took the four-week-old meerkit­ten from its en­clo­sure on Septem­ber 19 and smug­gled it out of the zoo grounds in a cooler bag while play­ing loud mu­sic to pre­vent its dis­tressed sounds be­ing heard.

He pleaded guilty to a stealing charge on Wed­nes­day and was fined $4000.

Hooker’s lawyer Chad Sil­ver told the court the baby meerkat came over to Hooker, who leaned over a 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 and vis­ited a South Perth food out­let be­fore driv­ing to their home in Bev­er­ley.

The po­lice prose­cu­tor said the baby meerkat was kept 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, Hooker made a full ad­mis­sion to po­lice.

Mag­is­trate Brian Gluestein de­lib­er­ated over the value of the meerkit­ten be­fore con­firm­ing Hooker’s penalty. Pre­vi­ously, the court heard 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,” Mr Gluestein said.

He ac­cepted Hooker was un­likely to re­of­fend but re­fused a re­quest for a spent con­vic­tion.

The max­i­mum penalty avail­able was two years’ im­pris­on­ment.

Hooker’s friend, Aimee Cum­mins (23), did not ap­pear in court last week to face a charge of re­ceiv­ing.

Ms Cum­mins was or­dered to ap­pear in court on Jan­uary 16.

A third per­son was also charged over the theft last week.

A 31-year-old Bev­er­ley woman was charged with pos­sess­ing stolen prop­erty.

Jesse Hooker leav­ing Perth Mag­is­trates Court.

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