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OKLAHOMA CITY (OKC Free Press) — Wednesday, Joshua Taylor Lucas pleaded guilty to a single count of felony wildlife trafficking in violation of the Lacey Act.

Lucas is a former assistant curator of herpetology at the Oklahoma City Zoo and committed trafficking crimes of selling baby endangered Galapagos tortoises while employed at the zoo.

Robert J. Troester, Acting United States Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma announced the plea and sentencing Thursday.

Baby tortoises

At the combined plea and sentencing hearing, United States District Judge Bernard Jones accepted the guilty plea and then sentenced Lucas to serve three years of probation, perform 100 hours of community service, and pay $32,500 in restitution to the Oklahoma City Zoo.

Lucas “admitted that he stole several Galapagos tortoise hatchlings during his tenure at the Zoo,” the announcement said. “Lucas further admitted that he sold and shipped 21 Galapagos tortoise hatchlings to a Nevada resident, Kenneth Warren Foose II (deceased), who was previously under Indictment in the Southern District of Texas for the illegal traffic of Galapagos tortoises.”

OKC Zoo statement

“This highly unusual incident has shocked and saddened the entire Zoo staff and has strengthened our vigilance to care for and protect the wildlife entrusted to us,” Candice Rennels with the Oklahoma City Zoo told Free Press in an email.

“Since learning of the theft in March 2020, the Zoo has modified internal caretaking policies, security procedures and record keeping for managing this species to prevent this from happening in the future.”

The OKC Zoo statement varied slightly from the U.S. Attorney’s office statement about how Lucas obtained the hatchlings.

“Mr. Lucas stole Galapagos tortoise eggs from the OKC Zoo, hatched them, and sold the offspring between April and June of 2016.”

Lacey Act

Lucas was charged in federal court April 14, 2020 with violating the Lacey Act.

The act prohibits people from importing, exporting, transporting, selling, receiving, acquiring or purchasing any fish, wildlife, or plant that was taken, possessed, transported or sold in violation of any law, treaty or regulation of the United States or in violation of any tribal law the announcement said.

Exploitation

“The exploitation and trafficking of endangered wildlife for personal profit is unacceptable,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Troester. “I commend the steadfast efforts of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the prosecutors in this case, who are committed to hold traffickers of endangered animals accountable.”

Phillip Land, Special Agent in Charge for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Office of Law Enforcement for the Southwestern U.S. commented on the conviction.

“This investigation involved the illegal traffic of endangered Galapagos tortoises for the exotic pet trade. This iconic species is the largest tortoise in the world, with hatchling sized juveniles carrying a black market value starting at $5,000 per animal.”

“Our Special Agents and Wildlife Inspectors make it a priority to identify, investigate, and dismantle illegal trafficking networks, and refer individual violators for prosecution under U.S. Laws.”

Last Updated March 4, 2021, 1:12 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor