Sydney science teacher convicted for beating ringtail possum to death for eating his shrubs

68-year-old Mr Robert Ferguson, Head of Science at St Augustine’s College in Brookvale, appeared at Downing Centre Local Court on 1 April and pleaded guilty to committing an act of cruelty in relation to beating a ringtail possum to death. He was sentenced to a two-year conditional release order.

Magistrate Giles said, “It is an unfortunate phenomenon of the 21st century where people come before the court for beating at something that annoys them. We have become selfish and impatient. It is a mum ringtail possum eating your trees. She is a protected native animal and you are a science teacher.”

Along with all native animals, ringtail possums are a protected species under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 and it is illegal to kill or catch and release them without a licence.

On the morning of 22 June 2017, a witness found a dead ringtail possum lying in the front yard of a property in Curl Curl. Two baby possums were rescued from the dead mother and taken to a vet for medical attention.

On 23 June, RSPCA NSW inspectors visited the location and retrieved the dead possum’s body. The inspectors noted the New Zealand Christmas bushes planted in an adjacent property looked eaten and that there was animal faecal matter on the wall beside the bushes.

A post mortem examination conducted by a veterinarian at Taronga Zoo Wildlife Hospital revealed the possum had multiple small subcutaneous contusions over the thorax and a single small contusion over the skull, extensive internal haemorrhage and a ruptured artery and/or veins. It concluded the lesions were consistent with blunt trauma caused by traumatic injury.

RSPCA NSW inspectors arranged an interview with Mr Ferguson, the owner of the property with the bushes. He admitted to hitting at the bushes on the evening of 21 June, the night before the dead possum was found.

Mr Ferguson expressed his remorse to the Court. His defence submission stated that he had previously taken lawful measures to manage the possum situation, including using lights, noise and chemicals on leaves, and that he had not intended to kill the animal.

Magistrate Giles said, “Conviction here is certainly warranted…Non-conviction sends an inappropriate message to everyone else who is annoyed by possums, and that recklessly killing it could be dismissed should they choose to do that.”

RSPCA NSW Chief Inspector Scott Meyers said, “There are reasonable methods for managing local wildlife, and a number of resources available online and in the community for those seeking help. The measures taken here were beyond unreasonable and it was unnecessary for this native creature’s life to end and for its young to be orphaned. The protection of our unique native wildlife is a serious matter.”

All charges brought under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (NSW) 1979.

For more information, or an interview with a RSPCA NSW spokesperson, please contact RSPCA NSW Media
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