East Lismore Man Convicted of Aggravated Cruelty After Killing Protected Snake in Nature Reserve

A 40-year-old East Lismore man has been convicted of committing an act of aggravated animal cruelty after killing an Eastern Brown Snake with a rock, at a protected Nature Reserve in Brunswick Heads. The snake was familiar to locals, having lived in and around the rock wall at Brunswick Heads for three of four years.

On 11 September 2021, the defendant arrived at the reserve -where he placed his esky and fishing rod near the snake, which was harmlessly sunning on a rock.

When a nearby witness who was taking photos of the reserve cautioned the man about the presence of the snake, the defendant grabbed a knife, before apparently changing his mind and proceeding to prod the snake with his fishing rod.

The witness warned the defendant, “You know you are in a nature reserve and it’s illegal to harm protected animals,” to which he replied, “I don’t give a f***.”

The defendant then picked up a 15-20cm rock weighing 1kg and threw it at the snake, despite pleas from the witness to leave the animal alone, and having been advised that the witness would report any injury to the snake to authorities.

The witness noticed that despite the snake being severely injured from the rock, it was still alive and writhing in pain, with severe wounds on its head and body.

The witness said to the defendant “You haven’t killed it, it’s still moving,” to which the defendant responded, “Report me. I don’t give a f***,” before leaving the scene.

The snake died a short time later.

Photograph of the snake sunning itself at the nature reserve before being killed.

The witness reported the incident, along with photographs of the snake, the defendant, and his ute to National Parks and Wildlife Service, who referred the matter to RSPCA NSW.

During the hearing at Byron Bay Local Court on Tuesday 30 January 2024, the defendant denied killing the snake, claiming that it was already deceased when he arrived at the reserve, despite photographic evidence proving otherwise.

An expert from the Australian Reptile Park gave evidence that the snake was likely sunning itself on a rock during early spring, the animal would have been coming out of hibernation, and not posing a threat to anyone. Even after the snake was prodded with the defendant’s fishing rod, it remained docile, reinforcing, for the expert, the view that the snake was not a threat to any of the visitors to the nature reserve.

The defendant was found guilty of committing an act of aggravated cruelty, sentenced to a two-year Community Corrections Order, and fined $11,000.

In sentencing the defendant, the Local Court Magistrate remarked that “We are very lucky in the Northern Rivers to live around an extremely diverse natural environment and protected species should remain so, particularly in a nature reserve.”

“In my 12 years of service as an Inspector, this is the first RSPCA NSW prosecution of this kind,” said RSPCA NSW Chief Inspector Scott Meyers.

“This deliberate and intentional act of aggravated cruelty was unreasonable, unnecessary, and unjustified. This animal was a protected species, in a protected habitat. The way this man went out of his way to intentionally harm this animal, for no other reason other than it being a snake, is not only abhorrently cruel, but is also against the law. This outcome sends a clear message that this type of unprovoked violence towards a protected animal will not be tolerated.”

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