Wildlife officials are calling it "a despicable act of cruelty to one of Australia's most loved animals." Over the last five weeks, three platypuses have been killed and dumped in a botanical garden in New South Wales, despite the fact that the animal is protected across the country, the Guardian reports. All three, including two that were beheaded, were found in Albury Botanic Gardens, about a quarter-mile from a river where officials believe they may have been trapped. The first was found in early March by a gardener, while the others were found by visitors. A vet has confirmed the latest animal found last Wednesday had its head removed with a sharp object, ruling out an animal attack.
"We still don't know what they've done with the heads" but "you can actually see where they've tried to cut into the vertebrae," a rep for the Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service tells the Border Mail. "We have no idea why anyone would do that, especially to something as gentle as a platypus," she adds. Anyone found to have killed a protected Australian species like a platypus, which happens to be the animal emblem of New South Wales, could face up to six months in jail and an $11,000 fine. WIRES, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, and the Albury City Council are investigating, reports the Huffington Post. (Beheaded animals have also been found in Canada.)