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An Austin man and former Oklahoma City Zoo employee has avoided jail time after pleading guilty to charges involving trafficking endangered Galapagos tortoises.


On Wednesday, Joshua Taylor Lucas was found guilty of a single count wildlife trafficking felony charge, according to Robert J. Troester, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma.

Lucas was given three years probation, 100 hours of community service and a $32,500 fine to be given to the zoo.

Lucas who was a former assistant curator of herpetology at the Oklahoma City Zoo, was charged in violation of the Lacey Act after taking endangered animals from the zoo and then shipping them across state lines between April and June of 2016. In the hearing, Lucas said he stole several Galapagos tortoise hatchlings while with the zoo and shipped 21 of them to Kenneth Warren Foose II, who was charged with trafficking Galapagos tortoises in Texas before his death.

In a statement, Oklahoma City Zoo officials said that they were shocked at the news and made changes so trafficking cannot occur in the future.

"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," officials said. "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."

Galapagos tortoises are highly valued in the illegal animal trafficking market and are the largest tortoises in the world, according to Phillip Land, Special Agent in Charge for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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," Land said in a statement. "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."

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