Second tortoise missing from Perth Zoo for seven years was allegedly stolen not once, but twice
A restaurant owner has been fined $7,000 for possessing three rare and endangered tortoises — one for about a week in 2016, and the other two for seven years — that were stolen from Perth Zoo.
Mai Huy Vu Vo pleaded guilty to charges of possessing the three Madagascan radiated tortoises when he appeared in the Joondalup Magistrates Court today.
There are only about 400 of the animals left in the wild.
The police prosecutor said two of the tortoises were found in the rear yard of Vo’s Girrawheen home in September this year, when police were called to the property because of a break-in.
Mai Huy Vu Vo leaves court after pleading guilty to possessing three tortoises. (ABC News: Joanna Menagh)
Both tortoises were microchipped, and it was discovered they had been taken from Perth Zoo in 2011.
Vo told the officers he had bought them from a friend of his drug dealer.
The court heard the Vo possessed the third tortoise in February 2016.
He said he had bought it from a man at a bus stop in Northbridge for $200.
But about a week later he saw an article about the theft of the animal from the zoo and he decided to take it to police.
Tortoises kept as pets
Vo’s lawyer Mark Gunning said his client did not know the animals were rare and endangered, and he had “cared” for them and kept them as pets.
Mr Gunning submitted that there was no “commerciality” involved in the offences and said Vo believed he may have been “targeted” because of his “love of wildlife”.
A microchip revealed the first tortoise was one of the zoo’s missing animals. (ABC News: Eliza Laschon)
Magistrate Elaine Campione described the offences as “bizarre”, noting that in 2016 Vo had “done the right thing” and returned one of the tortoises when he realised it was a “unique animal”.
She accepted that Vo was not the one who had stolen the reptiles and that he had taken good care of them when they were in his possession.
However she said the community and the scientific world were deprived of the tortoises for periods of time and opportunities, such as breeding, may have been missed.
“There are only 400 of the species in the wild,” Ms Campione said.
“You had a very, very serious brain snap to hold on to them simply because of your love of animals.”
In deciding to impose a fine, Ms Campione said she accepted that Vo was “usually a good person”, that he had cooperated with the authorities and that he had pleaded guilty at an early stage.
As well as the $7,000 fine, Vo was ordered to pay court costs of $205.
The second radiated tortoise to be recovered by police is now back at Perth Zoo. (ABC News: Eliza Laschon)