Quokkas (widely regarded as the cutest animal in the world) are an endangered species native to Australia. People who hurt them (widely regarded as A-holes) could face fines of up to $300,000 under new laws being drafted in Western Australia. The reforms come after two French tourists set fire to a quokka on Rottnest Island earlier this month.
The duo, who were working as cleaners on the island, filmed themselves using an aerosol can with a lighter to singe the animal's fur, before posting the video online. Fortunately the little battler made a full recovery. As WA Today reports, the pair have opted for the classic Monopoly move of staying in jail instead of paying their fines of $4,000 each. They'll remain in Hakea Prison, commonly known as "Hotel Hakea" by inmates, for a week.
Quokkas live almost exclusively on Rottnest Island, 20 kilometers off the coast of Western Australia. The animal is listed as "rare or likely to become extinct" in the Wildlife Conservation Act, and as "vulnerable" in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. It is an offense for a member of the public to handle the animal in any way on Rottnest Island.
Peter Murphy from Quokka Rescue, a group aiming to raise awareness of the animal's plight, told VICE the punishment isn't enough and shows that the Wildlife Conservation Act is outdated. "We felt that the punishment didn't fit the crime, we thought they got off lightly," he said. "We were really surprised that visitors from a country that's supposed to be cultured like France are doing such a disgusting act."
Murphy also said he would like to see the pair publicly shamed back in their home country. "We would like to see these two guys involved in this moronic incident exposed back in France, so they're aware that the people of Western Australia are very, very protective of this native, iconic animal, and we are most upset."
The Western Australian government is looking to reform the act to include a whopping fine of up to $300,000 for those that seek to harm the adorable creatures. The changes seem to have been in the works for several years, but little progress had been made. Perhaps two jerks using a homemade flamethrower to set a quokka on fire will provide the motivation the government needs. "The existing penalties under the Wildlife Conservation Act are wholly inadequate," Greens MP Lynn Maclaren said on a second reading of the reforms. The $4,000 penalty imposed is currently the heaviest available for those that harm endangered animals in the state.
Back in 2012, WA premier Colin Barnett agreed penalties weren't severe enough, and said they needed to be brought into line with the rest of the country. "The current Wildlife Conservation Act has penalties of $4,000 and $1,000 for taking or smuggling threatened species out of Western Australia, in comparison to NSW which has a maximum penalty of $220,000," he said.
Despite the planned changes, many feel the government still isn't doing enough to ensure the preservation of the quokka. "It doesn't really go far enough because the problem is the small colonies that still exist on the mainland, not the quokkas on Rottnest Island," Murphy told VICE. "If the government was serious about protecting the quokkas or increasing the fine for cruelty against quokkas, what they should be doing is protecting their habitats, not logging it."
Quokkas have enjoyed some recent viral internet fame, with many dubbing them the "happiest animal alive". They're known for a carefree attitude and a complete lack of fear of humans. A quick browse of #QuokkaSelfies will no doubt in improve your current mood.
But for baffling reasons, the animal has been the victims of attacks several times before. In February this year five quokkas were found dead on Rottnest Island, their heads stuffed into plant protectors. In 2007 two rugby players were fined $11,000 and $5,000 by their club after mishandling the creatures. "Quokka Soccer" was also behind the deaths of some of the endangered animals back in 2003.
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