Ex-zoo worker jailed over penguins and rare birds theft

  • Published
Stolen penguins NottinghamshireImage source, Nottinghamshire Police
Image caption,
The two Humboldt penguins called Patrick and Rico were found in Nottinghamshire

A man who stole penguins and rare birds from a zoo has been jailed.

Bradley Tomes took two Humboldt penguins, 12 spoonbills and three macaws from South Lakes Safari Zoo in Cumbria during two raids in 2018, Preston Crown Court heard.

Judge Beverley Lunt said Tomes, 25, was "caught red handed" when an animal keeper in Nottinghamshire bought the penguins and raised the alarm.

She said Tomes acted out of "greed" in this "callous and cruel crime".

Tomes, of Moss Lane, Hesketh Bank, Preston, was sentenced to two years and eight months for burglary and theft charges.

Prosecuting, Andrew Brown said Tomes had worked at the zoo until 2016 and had an interest in birds.

He said on 22 July 2018 he got into the aviary using a key and stole 12 roseate spoonbills, which are valued at up to £3,500 each.

The court heard other tropical birds then escaped through a hole Tomes had made in a fence.

Image source, Hollie Gordon Photography
Image caption,
The 12 spoonbills were part of the only collection of this breed in the UK

On 27 October Tomes broke in again and took two penguins and three macaws.

He said Tomes was caught in January 2019 after Reece Oliver, an animal keeper in Strelley, Nottinghamshire, who had bought the penguins for £9,000, discovered they were stolen.

He lured Tomes to his house and called police to attend at the same time.

'This was greed'

Tomes later said eight of the spoonbills died and four had been sold - but there are no details of their whereabouts.

Simon Christie, defending, said Tomes sold the stolen macaws for £500 each.

He said the former zoo worker had fallen "into a dark place" after his mum died and he turned to alcohol and drugs.

Judge Lunt said to Tomes: "This wasn't desperation borne out of a drug problem. This was greed.

"You caused these animals unnecessary suffering.

"This crime demonstrated how callous and cruel you are are. That you cared nothing for the welfare of these creatures. You just cared for yourself and the money you had obtained."

Image source, South Lakes Safari Zoo
Image caption,
Patrick (left) and Rico have settled back in at the zoo since they were stolen

South Lakes Safari Zoo said staff were "filled with horror" at seeing Tomes's personal aviary and the conditions the animals had been kept in.

Chief executive Karen Brewer said: "Macaws and spoonbills form bonds that go on to raise families just like humans and when he ripped individuals indiscriminately from the aviary he completely destroyed that.

"Successful nesting came to an absolute abrupt end and no chicks have been raised since."

Ms Brewer said the penguins, Patrick and Rico, "were not well" when they returned but had received "round-the-clock care" and were now settling back in.

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