French tourists who torched Rottnest Island quokka fined $4000 each
Thibaud Jean Leon Vallet, 24, who has a master’s degree in journalism and a police officer for a father, pleaded guilty to animal cruelty in court on Friday, alongside his cousin Jean Mickael Batrikian, 18.
The young men were in Australia as part of a coming-of-age journey.
They wanted to experience life on the other side of the world but ended up seeing parts of Australia reserved for few tourists – police stations, court rooms and jail cells.
Instead of making new friends, the court heard they found themselves on the receiving end of threats from new enemies.
The two men were fined $4000 each in Fremantle Magistrates Court after burning the quokka using a deodorant can and a lighter on April 3.
Magistrate Elizabeth Langdon told the men they would be held in custody for seven days or until they paid their fines.
During sentencing she commented on their cruelty.
“The first word that springs to mind to describe your behaviour is abhorrent,” she said.
The court was shown a video that was taken by Vallet of the incident, showing a 30-centimetre long flame singeing the quokka’s head and body.
The court then heard how that video was the crucial piece of evidence that led to the pair’s conviction.
Police caught up with the duo after being informed they were showing people on the island the disturbing film captured by Vallet, as Batrikian operated the deodorant-can flamethrower.
Prosecutor Sergeant Matthew Fearnley said the tourists were seen laughing in the video after the cruel act.
He urged the judge to send a strong message to the community.
“It was quite disturbing to see the reaction,” he said.
Outside court, Vallet, a budding journalist, said he was confused by the fact he had managed to gain such heavy, worldwide media attention by taking part in the video.
The magistrate noted it was “perplexing as a journalist that you would make the decision to film such a cruel act”.
Vallet told Fairfax Media he was a sports journalist in France.
“One can only imagine the impact caused to the quokka,” the magistrate said.
“Obviously it would have been fearful as a result of what occurred.”
The court heard how the small, furry marsupial, protected under Australian laws, was “vulnerable” and “harmless”.
The magistrate noted “public uproar” and “outrage” about the incident and said it was cruel and unusual treatment.
“The uproar is really a reflection of the seriousness of the matter,” she said.
The backpackers had been on a working holiday, which included three months on Rottnest Island as cleaners.
Vallet had saved $7000 and Batrikian banked $5000 ahead of their Australian work visas expiring in October, after which the pair planned to visit Thailand before returning to France.
They lost their jobs as a result of their actions and spent time in jail but still finished well short of the biggest punishment they could have received. The maximum penalty faced by the backpackers was $50,000 and five years’ jail.
Vallet, looking nervous and visibly shaken, told Fairfax Media he had mostly enjoyed his time in Australia despite the ordeal.
The magistrate noted Vallet and Batrikian were young men who lacked sound judgment and both had much to learn about life and morality.
The pair had their passports confiscated and are expected to leave Australia soon.
The first European sighting of quokkas occurred in 1658 when Dutch navigator Samuel Volkertsoon spotted them on the island, according to Peter Murphy from Quokka Rescue.
“But it wasn’t until 1698 that another Dutch navigator, Willem de Vlamingh, described the animal as a giant rodent hence the naming of the animal’s island habitat, Rottnest – meaning Rats’ nest in his native language,” Mr Murphy said.