A 26-year-old man has been charged with allegedly removing a platypus from its natural habitat in Morayfield, a town in Australia, Queensland Police said on Thursday following a hunt for the suspect and animal.
Police allege that the man, accompanied by a woman, took the platypus from a local waterway on Tuesday and traveled by train to the nearby town of Caboolture where they entered a shopping mall and showed the animal to members of the public.
The man, who has not been named, was charged with one count of taking a protected animal and a restriction on keeping or using a protected animal. Such charges can carry a maximum penalty of 431,250 AUD (about $289,000), police added.
The platypus’ current condition is unknown. Although police were advised that the animal was released into the nearby Caboolture River, it has not yet been located by authorities.
Queensland Police cautioned that a platypus can become sick or die while out of its natural habitat and warned that it should not be fed or introduced to a new environment.
Male platypuses also have venomous spurs on their hind feet, making them dangerous for humans to handle.
“If you are lucky enough to see a platypus in the wild, keep your distance. Never pat, hold or take an animal from the wild,” police said in a statement.
The platypus’ removal from its habitat sparked a police hunt, as both the force and the Department of Environment and Science made a joint appeal for the animal’s surrender to an emergency vet or police station.
Police released pictures of two people – one carrying the platypus and another carrying a bag – in their initial appeal for information, and later added that a woman had spoken with them.
Investigations are ongoing and the man is due to appear in court on Saturday, police added.
Native to Australia, platypuses are small amphibious mammals, known for their distinctive duck-like bill and, unlike most other mammals, for laying eggs as well as producing milk for their young.