Peggy and Molly: Magpie's future hangs in balance as Premier's comments spark anger

Meanwhile the environment minister has called for online abuse and death threats to stop following the surrendering of Molly to authorities.

Comments by Queensland’s premier that internet-famous Molly the magpie should be returned to a couple who allegedly kept it “unlawfully” have wildlife experts livid.

Sources within the state environment department (DESI) who spoke to Yahoo News on the condition of anonymity reported feeling like they’d been “thrown under a bus” after Steven Miles weighed into the matter this week and appeared to undermine their efforts to provide it with a new life.

At a press conference on Thursday, Miles, himself a former environment minister, called for “common sense” to prevail, saying efforts should be made to return the bird to Juliette Wells and her partner Reece Mortensen who had been caring for the bird since 2020 after allegedly taking it from the wild without a permit, licence or authority.

“There has to be a way within the rules to see Molly live out a happy life with her family,” the premier suggested.

Juliette Wells pictured with her book and the stars Peggy and Molly. Right: Molly pictured with dogs Peggy and Ruby. Source: Peggyandmolly
Peggy and Molly have been featured in a book and on television. Source: Peggyandmolly

Despite the premier's wishes, sources within DESI say they cannot see any legal pathway for the bird to be returned. They believe returning the bird could require a change to regulations. In Queensland, wildlife can only be rehabilitated by licensed carers with the express purpose of returning them to the wild.

Many believe Molly has had the best available care since it was surrendered at the beginning of the month. Now in the care of DESI, the bird is undergoing rehabilitation and has full access to veterinary assistance.

Minister issues update on Molly the magpie's care

Wells maintains she never "kept" Molly and didn't realise she needed a licence to interact with it, as the magpie was simply allowed to live wild in her yard. "Molly comes and goes as he wishes as we’ve said, and as you can see on social media. We have spent a long time getting the local magpie community to accept him as they are often estranged after falling from the nest," Wells said in an earlier statement.

But how well Molly could survive in the wild remains contested as the bird has become habituated to human contact. Sources with knowledge of Molly's care since it was surrendered believe the bird cannot fly properly or effectively scavenge for food. Under the watch of DESI, the bird is undergoing rehabilitation and has full access to veterinary care.

Responding to questions from Yahoo on Friday, Environment Minister Leanne Linard confirmed the magpie cannot not be released into the wild as it has become “highly habituated to human contact”, but its future remains unclear.

“Regarding the future care arrangements for the bird, the department is considering options,” she said.

“I am passionate about the protection and conservation of native animals. Native animals, like magpies, are protected under law. To keep a wild native animal, a person must have a licence. Sick or orphaned animals must be cared for by someone with a rehabilitation permit so they can be returned to the wild.”

Queenland premier Steven Miles addressing media.
Queenland premier Steven Miles wants to see a "common sense" approach to Molly's future. Source: Supplied

DESI and wildlife rescuers under attack

Molly the magpie’s future has been a hotly debated topic both in Australia and internationally since Yahoo News Australia exclusively revealed on Tuesday the bird had been surrendered by Wells and Mortensen. While the premier's subsequent comments came as a surprise to many in DESI, they are in line with popular opinion.

Molly and the two dogs she was raised with have over 2 million followers on social media, and judging by the outcry many Aussies would agree with the premier’s suggestion. An online petition uploaded to has received over 100,000 signatures calling for Molly’s release, and high profile television personalities and celebrities have backed the cause.

Sources within DESI stressed they feel supported by the department’s leadership, but the premier’s comments have upset many workers, particularly because they came at a time when they were being inundated with vile criticism.

The environment department stands ready to train Molly’s parents to be wildlife carers, to get them that certification so that Molly can be reunited with her family. What I’m suggesting now is that we work with the family to get them that permit so that Molly can be reunited with her family.Steven Miles

Horrifying details of abuse messages

Wildlife rescuers who campaigned for Molly to be surrendered so it could learn to be a magpie and associate with its own kind have received over a thousand angry messages, and more than 100 threats. Yahoo does not suggest Wells or Mortensen are in any way connected to this online abuse, and they themselves have asked for the hate being pedalled toward those who called for Molly’s removal to stop.

One recipient of the attacks, who Yahoo has chosen not to name, shared several of the messages which have since been deleted, but may now be forwarded to police.

“You meddling bitch, the bird was safe and happy until you interferred [sic],” wrote one person. “Some body [sic] take this lady to jail so se [sic] can get rapp ed [sic] every day,” someone else said.

“You are a con artist… best to watch your back?? Millions of people know who you are,” another person added.

“U [sic] brought this on urself [sic] now u [sic] will suffer. I already got ur [sic] address and rego through contacts so I’m sure it was easy for other people to find out where u live. Maye u [sic] need to go stay somewhere safe,” another person threatened.

Responding to the online “vitriol”, the veteran rescuer said she “cannot believe” the abuse both her and her son have received.

Sounding teary over the phone, the rescuer stressed she gained no advantage from seeing the magpie surrendered, and was only wanting what was best for Molly. She was surprised the premier weighed into the issue before DESI has concluded its investigations.

Minister urges abuse to stop

Responding to the abuse both rescuers and DESI staff have received Minister Linard issued a statement, calling for it to stop.

"I acknowledge the situation with Molly is an emotive one. The abuse of our hardworking and licensed wildlife carers and our passionate departmental staff by some in the community, however, has not only been disappointing and unacceptable, but deeply upsetting to them and their families. These people cannot claim to be animal lovers, then attack those people who dedicate their lives to the care and protection of native wildlife. The abuse must stop," she said.

Premier Miles and Ms Wells separately declined to comment further on the plight of Molly the magpie.

Why rescuers are concerned about wildlife on social media

The rescuer who has received the majority of abuse has advocated for wildlife for over 25 years, and successfully spearheaded a campaign calling on Bunnings to remove glue traps from its shelves after a spate of animal injuries and deaths.

Speaking generally about wildlife rescue, she said she is frequently called upon to assist animals that have been taken into care by members of the public. And without proper training the animals often end up with behaviour and medical problems.

She is just one of many rescuers frustrated by influencers taking native animals without a licence, as they believe it encourages others to do the same.

In a separate and unconnected case in January, a wallaby was kept by a member of the public for 48 hours and not taken to a vet. Instead it was taken into a school for “show and tell”. That animal was ultimately euthanised due to kidney failure caused by uninformed attempts to feed it.

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