Video of a teenager cradling a joey while a man forces a cigarette into its mouth has been shared to social media, leading to calls for her to surrender the animal.
The short TikTok, shot in Launceston, Tasmania, features a grinning girl holding a young Bennett’s wallaby underneath a caption in which she calls it her “child”. Outraged wildlife carers say the horrifying incident is just the “tip of the iceberg”. They are frustrated that baby kangaroos and wallabies are frequently being stolen.
The smoking wallaby is the second joey kidnapping incident to be highlighted on Wednesday by national wildlife rescuers Animal Rescue Cooperative (ARC). The group’s founder Derek Knox said the other story is even more “horrific”.
“A family member shot a kangaroo around three days ago and there was a joey which they took and gave to their 13-year-old as a pet,” he said. For three days, wildlife carers pleaded with the boy to hand it over. Today, they got word it had died.
Shooters bring home orphaned joeys to their kids
Most of the joeys that come into care are the offspring of wallabies or kangaroos, which are shot in their millions across all states and territories. While guidelines dictate that joeys must be destroyed, usually using blunt-force trauma, some shooters can’t go through with the act. That’s when they hand them to their children as a pet.
Tasmanian carer Christie Cook is usually made aware of around 50 orphaned joeys a year. By the time she is called, it’s often too late, and the animal is close to death. They’ve usually been raised on cow’s milk rather than specialised macropod feed.
“When a member of the public does hand one over to a carer, it’s usually only when they notice them going downhill,” she said.
“They pretty much only come to us to be euthanised. I couldn't count the number of times that I've cried over things like this. It eats at you.”
Ms Cook said volunteers are largely left to try and retrieve kidnapped joeys because when she has tried to get Tasmania’s department of environment (NRET) to intervene, her calls fall on deaf ears.
NRET did not immediately respond to a request from Yahoo News Australia for comment. In 2019 it told ABC failing to humanely destroy a joey is an offence and offenders can face $16,300 if a case progresses to court.
Authorities accused of turning blind eye to kidnappings
Mr Knox points out the issue isn’t restricted to Tasmania. There have been anecdotal reports of a joey being handed around in an outback Queensland pub earlier this year. He would like to see a national collective formed which can help rescue animals kidnapped by "bogans (who) have decided they want to get a new toy".
Like Ms Cook, many carers no longer try to get help from the authorities, as they believe their calls for help won’t be taken seriously.
“No one would get away with this if it was a koala joey… kangaroos are fighting against their unfair ‘pest’ status,” a carer who wishes to remain anonymous said. “Their wellbeing is being grossly ignored by all government departments across Australia.”
WIRES CEO Leanne Taylor told Yahoo News Australia instances of kidnapped joeys in NSW are “not uncommon”. She said the joeys have usually been fed the wrong food, not often enough and are highly stressed.
While the problem does not appear to be growing, she’s surprised that with wildlife awareness growing, the problem isn’t diminishing. “We still seem to consistently get those kinds of calls,” she said.
If anyone finds themselves with an orphaned joey she has one simple message: “Ring your local wildlife group immediately. Don’t try to keep it as a pet”.
Tasmanian authorities respond to wallaby kidnapping
Following publication of this story, NRET released a statement saying its investigations and enforcement section has received a complaint about the video and is investigating.
It urges anyone with sick, injured or orphaned wildlife to contact a licensed wildlife rescuer.
"While it may be tempting for some people to care for an animal themselves, it is best that they are looked after by a wildlife rehabilitator with the experience, skills, capacity and appropriate facilities to rehabilitate the animal for release back into the wild," it said.
"Wallabies are partly protected wildlife and should not be kept as pets."
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