WHAT started as a research mission looking for infected kangaroos turned into a horrific discovery for a Rose City wildlife carer, after she found nearly 60 mutilated animals by the side of roads across the Southern Downs.
Warwick wildlife carer Maggie Hughes made the first of a series of shocking discoveries while looking for dead kangaroos potentially infected with a current epidemic of E. Coli.
"I was driving out to Inglewood when I found a big male Eastern Grey Kangaroo injured by the side of the road," she said.
"He had his testicles removed and had a broken hip."
The passionate wildlife carer described the sight as absolutely horrific, as she sat with the kangaroo while he died.
"The fact I could sit there and hold his hand while he died just shows how much pain he was in," she said.
"I gave him an entire bottle of Pain-Ease and I cried - I literally cried.
"I've seen some pretty horrible things in my time as a wildlife carer, but nothing could prepare me for that."
In the following three weeks, Ms Hughes found nearly 60 mutilated creatures by the sides of roads around Warwick, Inglewood, Stanthorpe, Killarney and Yangan.
"I found 19 roos in one night on the road between Warwick and Inglewood," she said.
"One of the saddest things I found, which made me more determined to catch these people, was a mother and joey who had their skulls cut-out."
While her discoveries were mostly kangaroos and wallabies, Ms Hughes also found a number of other native animals' missing parts.
"I found an echidna which had a patch of its spines removed," she said.
"There was also a koala missing its claws."
This shocking case of animal cruelty is now under investigation by the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP) and local police, with a special task force expected to look into the claims.
An EHP spokesperson told the Daily News that wildlife officers investigated the region on May 14, but could find no evidence of the animals reported.
"Wildlife officers also spoke to the carer and to police and investigations are continuing," he said.
"Acts such as those reported are an offence under the Nature Conservation Act and, depending on the circumstances, may be subject to action under other animal welfare laws."
The spokesperson said the penalties for such offences vary depending on the number of animals and other circumstances.
"It is difficult to speculate on the motives behind such activities without knowing who is involved," he said.
While the investigation is continuing, Ms Hughes said she has her suspicions as to what could be behind the shocking acts of cruelty.
"It has be some sort of black market trade - people making jewellery out of echidna spines or pouches made into purses," she said.
"You just don't know what it could be - there are some really sick people out there who eat animal parts as aphrodisiacs."
While the bodies may have disappeared, one thing is clear to Ms Hughes - these were no random acts of road kill.
"All the kangaroos had either smashed hips or bullet holes - shooting the hip disables them," she said.
Anyone with information on these incidents or who witness any tampering with wildlife, contact the RSPCA 1300 ANIMAL (1300 264 625), EHP on 1300 130 372 or their local police.
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Cruelty to animals: $69,000 fine, up to two years imprisonment and a ban from owning an animal for 10 years
Taking wildlife and keeping or using taken wildlife (including killing/interfering): Up to $225,000 and one - two years imprisonment