Former zoo employee sentenced after pleading guilty to trafficking endangered Galapagos tortoises

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A former employee of the Oklahoma City Zoo was formally sentenced Wednesday after pleading guilty to a wildlife trafficking charge for selling Galapagos tortoise hatchlings from the Herpetarium.

On April 14, 2020, Joshua Taylor Lucas was charged with a single-count felony Information charging him with wildlife trafficking in violation of the Lacey Act.

Among other offenses, the Lacey Act prohibits people from acquiring or distributing any fish, wildlife, or plant that was obtained illegally.

Yesterday, Lucas pleaded guilty to taking an endangered species of wildlife and then selling and shipping the animals across state lines in violation of the Lacey Act. 

At the hearing, the former assistant curator of herpetology at the Oklahoma City Zoo admitted he stole several Galapagos tortoise hatchlings during his tenure at the Zoo.

“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,” said Phillip Land, Special Agent in Charge for the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Office of Law Enforcement for the Southwestern U.S.

Lucas further admitted that he sold and shipped 21 Galapagos tortoise hatchlings to a Nevada resident who was previously under Indictment in the Southern District of Texas for the illegal traffic of Galapagos tortoises.

“The exploitation and trafficking of endangered wildlife for personal profit is unacceptable,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Troester.

United States District Judge Bernard Jones 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. 

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