Peggy and Molly: Famous magpie adopted by Aussie family surrendered amid captivity fears

EXCLUSIVE: It's been alleged Molly the magpie, world famous for its relationship with Peggy the dog, has become too used to human contact and cannot be released into the wild.

Molly, a world famous magpie with a combined two million followers on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube has been surrendered to authorities amid allegations the bird was being “kept unlawfully”.

Peggy and Molly’s bloggers say their content highlights an “interspecies friendship” between an Australian magpie and a pair of staffies, Peggy and her daughter Ruby. Content featuring the trio has been fawned over by television hosts, and is the subject of glowing online newspaper reports. The blogger behind the phenomenon Juliette Wells even secured a book deal with Penguin Random House.

Fans have described the relationship between Molly, Peggy and Ruby as "just magic" and "very special". "Oh how we humans can learn from God's creatures," another person gushed. But as Molly, Peggy and Ruby’s stardom grew, so too has scrutiny of their situation, and 11 months ago registered wildlife rescuers began questioning why a native bird was being allowed to interact with domestic dogs on camera.

Left: Juliette Wells, creator of Peggy and Molly, holding her book. Right - Molly the magpie and the two dogs, Peggy and Ruby, interacting.
Juliette Wells with Peggy and Molly the magpie who have been featured in a book and on television. Source: Peggyandmolly

Queensland authorities do not permit such interactions because it can lead to lifelong behavioural issues, and hamper the bird's ability to be successfully released into the wild.

Social media star says magpie bonded with dogs 'naturally'

When Yahoo News Australia first contacted Juliette about the issue in February, she denied the bird was being “kept” in captivity, and didn't initially think a licence was required. “We don’t ‘care’ for him in the way people have cockatoos or parrots in cages. Once he was well enough we taught him how to forage for food in the garden, we taught him to fly and be independent,” she said in a statement via a publicist.

And when it comes to the interactions between the wild bird and her dogs, Juliette claims Peggy simply took on a “nurturer role” and bonded with Molly “naturally”. "I am a creator (and) was just capturing precious moments in time because it made people happy and I wanted to share the joy we got from watching their relationship develop," she said.

Left: A man playing with a toy and Molly on carpet inside. Right: Peggy and Molly on a dog bed outside.
Internet sensation Molly the magpie has been voluntarily surrendered. Source: Peggyandmolly

Magpie Molly surrendered to authorities

On Monday, Queensland's Department of Science, Environment and Innovation (DESI) confirmed a magpie had been “voluntarily surrendered” to its staff on March 1.

"It is alleged that the bird was taken from the wild and kept unlawfully, with no permit, licence or authority being issued by DESI," it said. "All Queensland native animals are protected under the Nature Conservation Act 1992. To keep a native animal that originates from the wild, a person must have a permit, licence or authority to lawfully have the animal in their possession."

In Queensland, native wildlife can only be rescued by licensed carers who intend on releasing it back into the wild. “Animals in rehabilitation must not associate with domestic animals due to the potential for them to be subjected to stress and the risks of behavioural imprinting and transmission of diseases. Animals from the wild, must stay wild,” DESI added.

Peggy and Molly update: Woman behind viral magpie Instagram account breaks her silence

Why magpie can't be released into wild

Back in 2020, Molly was found by Juliette alone in a park. Suspecting the the bird had been abandoned, she took it home.

Since then Juliette believes the bird has been "perfectly happy and well" living in the garden. She claims Queensland’s department of environment (DESI) first asked her to surrender Molly when they visited her home six months ago, but she was unable to capture the bird as it was in a tree. “They left so we assumed we were OK, and they were happy with the results of their visit and what we were doing was OK. [Six] months had passed before they made contact with us again,” she said.

Despite Molly having now been surrendered, Juliette has continued to post online videos showing the magpie and her dogs. A new post showing the pair lounging on a dog bed was posted to social media on Sunday.

DESI has now turned its attention towards providing a new home for the bird. It's understood it can fly short distances, but can’t fly like a normal magpie would. "Unfortunately, it has been highly habituated to human contact and is not capable of being released back into the wild," DESI said. "A process is currently underway to have the magpie placed at a suitable facility."

Investigations from DESI are ongoing and it’s understood no charges have been laid.

Juliette Wells was contacted again for contact after Molly was surrendered. She released a video statement on Tuesday night saying she was devastated at having to surrender Molly.

Trend of Aussie wildlife appearing on social media sites

Internationally, magpies have grown in popularity due to appearances across social media, film and literature. Local rescuers reported a surge in interest after the release of the Naomi Watts film Penguin Bloom, which was based on the true story about a wild magpie being adopted by a human family in Sydney.

As the public's wildlife fascination grows, animal rescuer Cat Coake is worried animals are increasingly being co-opted to appear in unnatural situations on Facebook and Instagram, and she’s called on authorities to crack down on the practice.

Speaking generally about the issue of unregistered members of the public taking wildlife into care, she described the problem as “serious” and a growing “trend”. Because animals are sometimes malnourished or humanised by the time they are surrendered, they can suffer from lifelong medical or behavioural issues. Some even need to be euthanised.

“It's heartbreaking. It's devastating for carers, absolutely devastating because we’re the ones who have to drive them to the vet so they can be put to sleep,” she said. “And it is happening a lot more. Maybe it's because it's appearing on social media. Especially when mainstream media picks it up and advertises it.”

Penguin Random House did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

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