A ZOO boss has hit out at a man who stole two penguins in a night time raid.

Karen Brewer, the chief executive of South Lakes Safari Zoo in Dalton, responded after a former employee pleaded guilty to stealing two rare Humboldt penguins as part of £25,000 haul of exotic birds he stole.

Bradley Tomes was told he was facing jail after he admitted to stealing the penguins and selling them to an animal rescuer when he appeared in the dock at South Cumbria Magistrates' Court last week.

Now the chief executive has blasted the 25-year-old, of Hesketh Lane in Preston, as he awaits his sentencing hearing.

She said: "It's an absolutely sickening situation and he should be behind bars and throw away the key."

Magistrates were told how Bradley Michael Tomes broke into South Lakes Safari Zoo on two occasions to steal the rare birds, cutting a whole in the side of an aviary in the overnight thefts.

The 25-year-old was rumbled when an animal rescuer in Nottinghamshire, who bought the penguins on Facebook, alerted the authorities.

Tomes, pleaded guilty to stealing 12 spoonbill birds on July 22 2018 followed by two Humboldt penguins and three macaws on October 27 2018.

The defendant also admitted transporting and selling the animals.

Prosecutor Lee Dacre told the court: “On July 22 when staff opened up they saw a hole had been cut in perimeter fence of the aviary and exotic birds had been extracted, valued at around £20,000.

“Their suspicions fell on the defendant. He had worked there previously as bird keeper and had previously asked if he could buy some of the animals.

“On January 16 an animal collector who bought the penguins on Facebook contacted vets saying they were in bad health,” he said.

“The defendant asked the person not to contact the police and he would refund him the money.

“Staff from the zoo travelled to the collector’s address and tags on the birds confirmed they were stolen. They were able to pick up the penguins.”

The two sets of birds stolen were worth £19,400 and £6,000.