RSPCA Officer Leigh Summers makes friends with Jean
Published: 31 October, 2013
BY DAN CARRIER
JEAN the Highgate Cemetery wallaby was contemplating a spell behind bars this morning (Thursday) after leaving the safety of the graveyard and turning up in a children's playground on the York Rise estate in Dartmouth Park.
The marsupial, which has become a firm favourite with visitors to the cemetery in Swain's Lane since being spotted a week ago, was found by 18-year-old carpenter Oscar Chettleborough at 5am this morning (Thursday).
It was bounding around the red brick, 1930s estate and had been seen nosing through flower beds.
Oscar, who went to Acland Burghley school, was returning home after a night out and rang his mum, Leigh Briscoe, in a state of shock.
Mrs Briscoe said: “Oscar had been round his mate's house after a night out and I got a call from him at 5am to say there was a small kangaroo at the entrance of the estate and he was worried about cycling past it to get home because he thought it might bite him. He said: 'Mum, what do I do?”
“I thought: it must be the wallaby I'd read about in the New Journal, so I called the police. The operator said to me: 'I beg your pardon, madam, a what?' It was very funny.”
The police called the RSPCA – prompting a morning of high drama as a lone RSPCA officer tried to keep the creature safe and get it into captivity.
RSPCA officer Leigh Summers was alerted by 7am. He came from his base in Harrow and admitted he did not quite know what to expect. He said: “I've worked for the RSPCA for nine years and this is my first wallaby.”
Mr Summer added the creature was in "fine fettle", and was almost certainly the one that had been living in Highgate Cemetery.
He said: “It looks very much like the one reported in Highgate. He is in good spirits and perfectly healthy.”
By the time the RSPCA arrived, Jean had found a way into the estate's playground. Children stood behind the high fences and fed Jean apples while parents looked on and took plenty of pictures.
At one point, it seemed extra help would be needed. Hampstead Heath ranger Danny Murphy was called and asked to bring a tennis net to help round him up – a trick used, apparently, by Australians to keep wallabies off their lawns.
By the time the ranger arrived, the wallaby had been cornered and carefully captured.
How the marsupial, which Mr Summers believes is a male adult, got down from Highgate Cemetery and into York Rise has yet to be worked out – assuming, of course, it is Jean and not another one.
It would have had to find a way over the high walls of the cemetery, and then skip through Dartmouth Park – luckily avoiding major roads – but it is still a mystery where it originally came from.
There are known to be colonies living in the wild in the Home Counties, while none have been reported missing from private zoos.
The animal was safely caught after a chase around the playground, and was carefully placed in a cage in a van. This morning, Jean is being taken to an exotic animal holding centre at Heathrow Airport while the RSPCA work out what to do next.
Sadly for the children on the York Rise estate, it seems unlikely they will be allowed to keep the marsupial.