By Dave Goosselink
A 20-year-old Southland man has been sent to jail for four months following a vicious attack on a defenceless leopard seal.
It is the first time a person has been locked up for such an inhumane act.
The man and two friends took photos and video of the attack which in turn was used against them in court.
The video footage of a cruel attack on a leopard seal near Tuatapere last October has proved the undoing of three young Southland men.
They filmed themselves throwing rocks at a leopard seal, injuring the protected mammals eye and body.
The group's leader, Harley McKenzie was sentenced in the Invercargill District Court for his cowardly act.
“This was a prolonged act on a defenceless animal with rocks causing obvious injury and upset to a defenceless animal,” Judge Kevin Phillips said.
The trio posed for photos and then dragged the seal by its tail down the beach.
The Department of Conservation were alerted to the attack when the men posted the photos on Facebook.
“One of the major difficulties obviously is these kinds of attacks happen in remote locations so finding witnesses or offenders to those incidents is difficult,” says DOC compliance officer Kelwyn Osborn.
Judge Phillips said McKenzie's offending was more serious than his friends; he had been previously convicted for cutting the ears and tail off a pig.
The judge said the attack at the beach attack showed he had learned nothing.
“This court is here to protect the defenceless, and that includes those types of animals.”
Judge Phillips sentenced McKenzie to four months in prison dismissing requests for home detention.
“We're very pleased with the sentence. It sends a really strong message to the people who would commit that kind of offence, that the courts and people of New Zealand won't tolerate that kind of behaviour,” Mr Osborn says.
Authorities don't know what happened to the leopard seal after the attack, but DOC hopes the incident will serve as a warning to anyone who comes into contact with protected animals.
Mckenzie's two friends Phillip Horrell and Michael Matthews have already been sentenced and fined for their actions.