A 29-year-old Vietnamese man charged with possessing three critically endangered tortoises stolen from Perth Zoo has indicated he intends to plead guilty.
A Madagascan radiated tortoise was stolen from the zoo in June 2011 and another one was taken in September that year.
Then in February 2016, a 10-year-old tortoise of the same species was pilfered but returned within days after being dumped at a police station in a backpack.
The other two, now aged about 22, were finally recovered last month in bizarre circumstances.
One was found in the backyard of Mai Huy Vu Vo’s Girrawheen home when police came to respond to reports of a burglary.
Days later, they found the other tortoise at a 35-year-old woman’s Greenwood house, and she was charged with trespass and stealing.
“It will be alleged the woman had taken the tortoise from the address in Girrawheen,” police said.
Vo was charged with three counts of possessing stolen or unlawfully obtained property and appeared in Joondalup Magistrates Court on Friday, when his lawyer Vinh Nguyen said his client wanted to plead guilty.
“He didn’t know that it was stolen from Perth Zoo,” Mr Nguyen said.
The multilingual lawyer was interpreting for Vo but the magistrate didn’t accept the pleas and adjourned the matter until November 2 because a professional interpreter wasn’t present.
When the two tortoises were returned to the zoo after their seven-year absence, they were found to have injuries to their shells and were placed in quarantine for 30 days.
Senior veterinarian Simone Vitali told reporters the rare tortoises, which are trafficked around the world, recover from stress very slowly.
According to the zoo, the oldest known radiated tortoise died at an estimated age of 188.
The tortoises are endangered because of habitat loss and are also used as a food source for ceremonial events, while their shells are used as ornaments.