A man who tried to flog two stolen penguins on Facebook after stealing a haul of exotic birds worth £54k has been jailed.
Bradley Tomes was caged for two years and eight months at Preston Crown Court after admitting the theft from South Lakes Safari Zoo.
The 25-year-old, who previously worked at the popular visitor destination, carried out two night-time raids in July and October, 2018.
The bird thief cut a hole in the fence before making off with numerous exotic birds including spoonbills, macaws and egrets from a tropical aviary, the Manchester Evening News reports.
He also stole two Humboldt penguins, native to the Pacific Coast of Chile and Peru, named Pablo and Penny from the penguin enclosure.
In January 2019, an exotic animal collector from Nottinghamshire contacted the police to report he had recently bought two penguins for £9,000 which were in poor health from a Facebook trader.
Tomes drove to the buyer to give them a refund and collect the penguins, where police were waiting to arrest him.
Staff from the zoo later confirmed these were the stolen penguins.
Twelve Roseate spoonbills, valued at almost £20,000 and which were part of the only collection of this breed in the UK, have not been traced.
Wendy Evans for the CPS said "Bradley Tomes showed utter disregard to the wellbeing of the birds he stole from his previous employer for his own financial gain.
“In an attempt to avoid being caught, he begged the buyer not to contact police and tried to return the money he had received for the penguins.
"In a police interview he denied committing the offences, but once faced with the overwhelming evidence against him, he pleaded guilty.
“This included clear evidence of him planning the thefts to order.
“He told police he had not attended the zoo in 2018, but ANPR and an eye witness, who knew him, proved he made a reconnaissance trip to the zoo, as well as being present on the days of the burglaries.
"We take crimes involving endangered animals and birds incredibly seriously and will take every step we can to secure convictions in these cases."
A police spokesperson said: "Cumbria Constabulary take wildlife crimes extremely seriously.
"Tomes put the lives of the two penguins at risk, and he continued to deny the offences against him in interview.
"Thankfully the man who bought the penguins contacted vets due to their poor condition and reported the incident to police against the pleas of Tomes who offered to return the money.
"We would encourage anyone with concerns around wildlife crime to contact police, we are committed to tackling the problem and will seek to prosecute those who exploit our most endangered wildlife for their own gain."