Man claims seal bashing was 'legal hunting'
A Blenheim man has admitted bashing to death New Zealand fur seals on the Kaikoura coast but says he was hunting them legally.
Jemaal Peter Roy Large, 38, of Wairau Valley, pleaded not guilty to three charges of wilfully ill-treating animals causing their death, on the first day of his judge alone trial at the Nelson District Court today.
The Crown contends that Large and an associate entered the Ohau Point colony, a breeding ground for seals and a popular tourist attraction on the Kaikoura coast, the night of November 26, 2010. Together they used a galvanised steel pipe to club 13 female breeders, 2 bulls, and eight seal pups.
Crown lawyer Jackson Webber said the pair planned the killing while they were working as builders in North Canterbury.
He said there had been a significant investigation into who was responsible for the killings, after the dead seals were discovered on December 1, 2010.
Department of Conservation ranger and marine mammal manager Michael Morrisey told the court he performed autopsies on 12 of the dead seals, and closely examined the other 11. It was clear their skulls had been "pulverised" by blunt force trauma.
Large had initially denied killing the seals when interviewed by police in June 2011, but admitted his involvement after being played a recording of his associate's interview, the court heard.
Large told police they "whacked" the seals in the head, and said "it was a bit like killing possums or rabbits", Mr Webber said.
Defence lawyer David Clark said his client admitted clubbing the seals to death, but had hunted and killed them legally.
In August last year in the Blenheim District Court Judge Tony Zohrab turned down an appeal by Large to have his charges quashed on grounds that he was entitled to hunt the seals.
Large then appealed to the High Court for a judicial review of that decision, again requesting that the charges were dismissed.
Justice Joseph Williams dismissed the application, saying a District Court judge would have to hear the Crown's evidence and the defence case, to determine if Large was hunting legally.
In his decision, he said it was not clear if Large's actions could be considered a dangerous pursuit "requiring skills ordinarily associated with hunting", as defined in a section of the Animal Welfare Act 1999 that allows for the hunting of wild animals.
Mr Clark said the legal definition of hunting could not be limited to "skilled operators in danger". He asked Judge Peter Hobbs what danger a rabbit posed to a rifleman.
He also said the Crown needed to prove the seals were ill-treated, which was not evidenced by their death alone. There needed to be proof that the seals suffered "unreasonable" pain.
Mr Webber said Large's actions could not be considered hunting because the seals were docile and relativelty immobile during the November breeding season, and there was no skill required to bash them to death.
The Crown was calling witnesses today, including Department of Conservation experts, and police officers. The trial is set to continue for the rest of this week.
It had been scheduled to start in Marlborough, but was shifted to Nelson after the Blenheim Courthouse was closed following the Seddon earthquakes.
Large's associate, Jason Trevor Godsiff, of Renwick, admitted clubbing the seals at an earlier trial and was sentenced to two years in prison, although that was reduced to eight months' home detention by Justice Jillian Mallon on appeal.
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