EXCLUSIVE Animal wrangler accused of not returning Penguin Bloom
An internationally-renowned animal wrangler who trained magpies for Australian box-office hit Penguin Bloom is accused of not returning one of the birds he took for the film to its rightful owner.
For more than a year, South Australian bird rescuer Tanya Mahony said she has received nothing more than “excuses” as to the whereabouts of her precious magpie Mouthie.
Her rescue bird was given to the film’s trainer – Paul Mander – who has been on a media roadshow in recent weeks, promoting the blockbuster motion picture.
The film is based on the true story of a baby magpie called Penguin, who helps save Sydney mum Sam Bloom after a balcony fall leaves her a paraplegic.
Just like Sam Bloom, Ms Mahony said she was fighting her own inner demons when she took comfort in the magpie she named Mouthie.
But Ms Mahony said she hasn’t seen her bird since she left their South Australian home in March 2019.
“How can you take away someone’s best friend and not give it back?”
Ms Mahony said after threatening Mr Mander with legal action, he finally agreed to send her bird home – only for Ms Mahony to receive two birds that she said were not hers.
She claims Mr Mander later told her that the bird must still have makeup on it from filming.
Ms Mahony, who volunteers at a bird sanctuary twice a week, said she has received a litany of excuses about her bird’s whereabouts.
Excuses from: “Mouthie’s malting so badly I don’t want to send her home, she’s in love with another Magpie she’s met on set”.
To: “The main excuse, which I haven’t heard from them, but other people, is that Mouthie’s flown away.
And: “She can’t fly.”
But Mr Mander did not respond to multiple requests for comment, and instead threatened A Current Affair with legal action.
A letter from Mr Mander’s lawyer claims he had “difficulty” identifying Mouthie at the end of filming because “apparently the feathers of the birds were dyed for the film so that the birds would look the same”.
The production company described this as a water-based makeup, that was safe for animals.
Filmmakers said Mouthie was never used in production and she did not appear in the film.
So it begs the question – if Ms Mahony’s feathery friend never made it to the set – where is she?
Police in two states have told Ms Mahony it’s a civil matter so they can’t help, but Ms Mahony said she can’t afford a lawyer to take on the case.
She has barely been able to bring herself to watch the film, which has raked in more than $7 million at the box office.
“I’m upset and angry they’re making a lot of money off of it,” Ms Mahony said.
A Current Affair is aware of at least one other magpie that was not returned to its owner, after the bird died before production commenced.
A Current Affair does not suggest that Mr Mander was in any way responsible for that bird’s death.
Its owner was paid out on terms including that they keep the matter confidential.
In a statement, a Penguin Bloom spokesperson said all birds featured in the movie were “meticulously and professionally cared for” and no birds were harmed during production.
“Prior to the commencement of filming, each of the birds were correctly identified, named and documented with a complete record maintained throughout,” the statement said.
“All birds used in the production of Penguin Bloom were then safely returned to the owners.”
Ms Mahony said she has a small “glimmer of hope” of ever seeing her bird again.
“We don’t want money,” Ms Mahony said.
“How can you be so cold-hearted to take my best friend away?”
Full statement by a Penguin Bloom spokesperson:
All of the birds featured in the filming of Penguin Bloom were meticulously and professionally cared for, no birds were harmed in the making of this film.
Prior to the commencement of filming, each of the birds were correctly identified, named and documented with a complete record maintained throughout. No bird called Mouthie was a part of the production or marketing of the film.
All birds used in the production of Penguin Bloom were then safely returned to the owners.