Man Steals Baby Meerkat From Zoo After Falling In Love With It During Visit

One of the three baby meerkats plays watches from its enclosure at the Bristol Zoo on April 4, 2008, in Bristol, England. On Wednesday, a man was given a $4,000 fine for stealing a baby meerkat from a zoo in Australia. Matt Cardy/Getty Images

A crime reportedly of passion landed a man with a hefty fine after a baby meerkat was taken from an Australian zoo.

The baby meerkat, also known as a meerkitten, was born on August 20 and spent four weeks in a nest box at the Perth Zoo in South Perth, Australia, according to ABC News. The meerkitten eventually ventured out into the exhibit and on September 19, the zoo realized the meerkitten was gone.

"As it is very young, it has only just been weaned from its mum so they are starting to introduce it to solid food and that's something only its mum and rest of the meerkat troop can provide," Perth Zoo curators of operations John Lemon told ABC News.

Given that the enclosure is difficult to get into, zoo personnel was concerned that the wee meerkitten had been scooped up by a predatory bird. If the thief was a bird, the zoo may have never learned what happened, but the culprit was a human being and a police investigation quickly identified the source.

The young meerkat was found when Beverley Police officers, acting on a tip, searched a property in Beverley, Australia. Three people, 22-year-old Jesse Ray Hooker, 23-year-old Aimee Cummins and an unnamed 31-year-old woman were charged in connection with the meerkat's disappearance.

Hooker, who was charged with stealing the animal, pleaded guilty in Perth Magistrate's Court, according to The West Australian. Prosecutors told the court that Hooker and Cummins were at the zoo for about two hours before Hooker took the meerkitten. He allegedly placed the animal in his personal cooler bag and when he was in the car, he played loud music to muffle its distressed cries.

When police located the animal, The West Australian reported he told officers it would "be cool as a pet." Hooker's lawyer, Chad Silver, told the court that his client didn't step into the enclosure, but actually leaned over and scooped up the animal. Why did he do this? Silver claimed it was a crime of love.

"[He thought] it was very cute indeed," Silver said, according to The West Australian. "He fell in love with it."

Although he acknowledged it was "stupid," Silver said his client was remorseful over what he did and that if someone went to the zoo they would see how "cute" the meerkats are and "see the attraction."

Magistrate Brian Gluestein described the theft as "very deliberate" and called the meerkitten's disappearance a "significant loss to the community and the zoo."

Ultimately, Hooker was given a fine of $4,000. He wrote a letter of apology to the zoo, which has since named the meerkat Salama, and offered to do community service work. Although the zoo had concerns the meerkat's family would reject him, it seems the mob has welcomed him back home.

"Our meerkat kit, Salama, is doing well with the rest of the meerkat mob. He is growing fast and currently weighs around 500 grams," Perth Zoo's executive director Wendy Attenborough told The West Australian after the sentencing. "While the Zoo team appreciates Mr. Hooker's apology we will not be taking up his offer to do community work at Perth Zoo."

Cummins is charged with receiving the stolen animal, according to The Sunday Times, and has not pleaded to her charge, yet. She's scheduled to appear again in court in January. The third woman was charged with possession of stolen property and is scheduled to appear in court in January.