A FORMER bird sanctuary boss, who lied about running a rare breeding programme so he could sell exotic species to the highest bidder, has escaped a jail sentence.
Keith Beaven made almost £7,000 by convincing zoos and animal sanctuaries — including Paignton Zoo — to lend him rare and endangered birds of prey, which he then sold.
His scheme ended when he sold the sanctuary but continued to use its name in his scam.
During the trial, the court heard how Beaven conned Paignton Zoo into loaning him a Ural owl.
Prosecutor Brendan Moorehouse said Beaven sold the birds while the owner of the National Birds of Prey Centre.
He said: "His callous scheme raked in thousands of pounds as he used the once reputable name to get animals on loan from other centres.
"He had learned a way of making money, using his knowledge of the framework, the rules and regulations of the management of these endangered animals."
Beaven, 68, was found guilty of three counts of theft and three counts of fraud, as well as selling an endangered species, all related to majestic birds of prey.
He also pleaded guilty to one count of fraud and another count of theft at Gloucester Crown Court last month.
Judge William Hart sentenced him to 40 weeks imprisonment, suspended for 18 months, and ordered him to pay £16,000 in fines and costs.
He told Beaven: "Your conduct represents a gross betrayal of the trust and manipulation of the trust based on the system of inter-zoo transport.
"Your conduct represents blatant dishonesty.
"It is clear you felt you had to dispose of your stock when you were no longer operating the National Birds of Prey Centre.
"When you saw an opportunity to make a profit from the sale of birds you found it impossible to resist.
"You did it really because you could."
He added: "The greatest punishment for you of all is that, at the age of 68, you have lost your reputation for honesty and decency."
Paignton Zoo spokesman Phil Knowling said: "We would have preferred a stronger message in terms of custody, rather than a suspended sentence.
"The whole system of conservation breeding relies on trust and cooperation.
"You get that the world over. It just takes one bad apple to break the trust down. We work around the world and don't have any problems. We donate and loan animals for the benefit of the future of species."
Nevin Hunter, head of unit for the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit, said: "Paignton Zoo were oblivious to his intentions and the subsequent sale."
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