A man who took part in the killing of wild little penguins on a Tasmanian beach two years ago has today been found guilty of animal cruelty charges.
Joshua Leigh Jeffrey denied taking part in the killings on January 1, 2016, but was today found guilty of the charge of aggravated cruelty to animals likely to result in death, deformity or serious disablement and the charge of taking, buying, selling or possessing protected wildlife without authority.
The 21-year-old’s lawyer Greg Richardson said he had psychiatric assessments detailing ongoing psychological issues with his client since he was eight years old.
Magistrate Tamara Jago adjourned sentencing for two months so a forensic mental health pre-sentencing report could be conducted.
The court had heard that nine dead little penguins were found at Sulphur Creek by Luke Williams after he overheard noises from a nearby campsite.
In the charges sheet, Jeffrey was accused of striking and killing six of the penguins with a stick.
Mr Williams found an axe and the dead bodies of the penguins at the site the next morning and described the finding as “disturbing” and “violent”.
At that time, police lawyer Harry Virs told the court there was evidence from a male youth that he and Mr Jeffrey had killed the penguins with sticks.
Pathology evidence tendered in court at that time found the penguins had been discovered with fractures consistent with blunt force trauma.
Dr Eric Woehler from Birds Tasmania said the penguins were vulnerable animals.
“I was shocked when I heard the details of the attack on the penguins … it’s something that is just abhorrent,” he said.
“There are 17 species of penguin and this is the smallest in the world. A full-sized adult weighs about a kilo and stands about 30 centimetres tall, so an attack on essentially a harmless and defenceless bird is just unacceptable.
“The loss of nine or 10 birds, it doesn’t matter if it is from a large or small colony … this is just one more threat that the birds simply don’t need.
“And every threat that these birds face is a threat to their continuing viability to their viability in the north-west coast.”
Preservation Bay Coast Care Group President Frank Wilson, who provided witness testimony at the hearing, told the ABC he had been shocked by the dead penguin find.
“We have had a few incidence of dogs killing penguins in the same area before this incident, and to get a couple of bags of dead penguins dropped off was of concern and disappointment to think a human could have done this,” Mr Wilson said in an email today.
“We only have a small strip of coastal foreshore through Sulphur Creek and penguin numbers and habitat is something the locals really appreciate … the people who live near where it happened were very upset.”
In a statement, the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment said the “investigation and prosecution highlights that animal welfare and protection of our wildlife is regarded seriously”.
“The Department would like to acknowledge the support of the community and Tasmania Police which both played a vital role in the investigation and prosecution of the matter.
“The Department will wait for the completion of the matter after sentencing before commenting further.”
Jeffrey was bailed to appear in court in June for sentencing.