Three people have been arrested in connection to the theft of baby meerkat that vanished from an Australian zoo, officials said.
Officials at the Perth Zoo were excited to publicly show off its month-old meerkitten to the public and media in September. But a day before their planned debut, authorities were shocked to find the male baby was gone.
Police found the missing meerkat at a house about 80 miles away in the town of Beverly, The Associated Press reported.
Jesse Ray Hooker, 23, was charged with stealing the newborn. A 23-year-old woman was charged with receiving stolen goods, while a 31-year-old woman was charged with possessing stolen property.
Hooker’s attorney, Chad Silver, told reporters his client was in the process of bringing the meerkat back to the zoo when authorities intervened.
“He was in the process of returning it,” Silver said. “However, the simplicity of the offense meant the police were able to capture and follow up the meerkat very quickly."
Hooker pleaded guilty and was fined 4,000 Australian dollars, or $2,800. He has also offered to apologize to the zoo for his behavior. The 23-year-old woman will appear in court in January, while the other woman will appear in court in December.
Hooker’s alleged motivations were not immediately clear, but his attorney’s explanation pointed to the obvious.
“As I said before, if you go to the zoo, you'll realize how cute they are and you'll see the attraction,” Silver said.
The meerkitten, which is a male, was welcomed back by his mob, or his group, and was named Salama, which means “safe” in the East African language of Kiswahili.