PETA hopping mad at UM over wallaby

By Louis Aguilar and Angelique S. Chengelis, The Detroit News

An animal rights activist group is unhappy with the University of Michigan's handling of an exotic animal — a wallaby — that it says two UM students tried to sell online.

One of the students, a UM hockey player, refused to hand over the baby marsupial to the Detroit Zoo earlier this week, according to a lawyer for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA.)

The wallaby, instead, has been returned to the Hudsonville breeder who sold it to student athlete Cutler Martin, PETA says. The group says that's an irresponsible move and the animal belongs at a zoo where it cannot be sold.

After noticing an online ad offering to sell the baby male wallaby, the attorney for PETA said she contacted Martin, a UM sophomore and a defenseman on the university's hockey team. Wallabies resemble small kangaroos and are native to Australia and New Guinea.

Brittany Peet, a Washington-based attorney with the PETA Foundation, said she told Martin that local ordinances make it illegal to own exotic animals and a federal license is required to sell them. She said PETA then arranged to pay Martin $500 to hand the animal over to the Detroit Zoo. Peet also sent an email to UM President Mark Schlissel on Wednesday informing him of the situation.

However, Martin sought more money and threatened to sell the wallaby to a roadside zoo, Peet said. Martin of East Lansing could not be reached for comment Friday.

On Friday, UM spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen said in a statement: "The student no longer has possession of the animal and it has been turned over to a responsible and appropriate adult."

That's the same reply UM gave to PETA earlier this week, and the answer doesn't satisfy the group's concern over the animal's safety. The Hudsonville breeder could not be reached Friday.

"A wallaby doesn't belong in a private home any more than a wolverine does," Peet said.

PETA maintains that keeping a wild animal such as a wallaby in a residential home and subjecting it to handling by strangers places it at risk of injury and severe psychological harm. In addition, the animal in question is only 2 months old, according to the online ads, which means it needs constant care.

PETA said that UM football player Jack Wangler initially tried to sell the wallaby online for $2,220. Wangler on Friday confirmed some details of the saga.

"I never had possession of the wallaby — money never switched hands," Wangler told The News. "He was a really good pet. He would hop around and follow you. If you sat, he sat." He also vouched for Martin's care of the wallaby, who was named Sampson.

"The animal had extremely good living conditions. He was bottle fed," Wangler said. "I don't think he was doing anything wrong. It just serves as learning lesson for everyone involved."

As for the wallaby's whereabouts now, Wangler would only say, "It's in good hands."

That's not good enough for PETA.

"This student (Martin) and the school had the opportunity to step up and set a great example for all U of M sports fans by allowing this wallaby to spend the rest of his life in a naturalistic habitat with other animals at the Detroit Zoo," Peet said.

"Now the wallaby has apparently been sent back to the irresponsible breeder who allowed a college athlete to take home a baby wallaby in the first place."

Twitter: @LouisAguilar_DN