ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) — A 46-year-old St. Petersburg man faces several charges for stealing two rare tortoises that disappeared from a St. Augustine zoo in November 2022.
Authorities say a search warrant executed at the home of 46-year-old Joshua McCarty-Thomas led to the discovery of two endangered Galapagos Tortoises worth up to $10,000 each.
One tortoise was found roaming around the yard while the carcass of another was found in the freezer. Fully grown, the reptiles can reach roughly 600 lbs. and live to be 150 years old.
“One of the tortoises died at this gentleman’s house, so it is bittersweet for us,” said John Brueggen, director of the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park. “Of course we would like to have them both back, but just having some resolution to this, knowing where the tortoises went, is extremely helpful for my staff, who have been agonizing about what happened to the tortoises.”
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) verified the tortoises’ chips as those that were stolen from the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park last November.
News Channel 8 spoke with farm director John Brueggen at the time of the tortoises’ disappearance, who said “This is almost like grand theft auto, except it’s grand theft tortoise now.”
In a news conference on Wednesday, St. Augustine police said the accused turtle-nappers snuck the reptiles out of the zoo inside of a stroller during regular business hours. St. Augustine police said they are wanted in connection to additional thefts in several Florida cities.
A necropsy will be performed on the dead tortoise to determine how it died. The surviving animal will be quarantined until zoo staff figure out what happened to the other tortoise and it can be medically cleared.
McCarty-Thomas is also accused of stealing rare books from two stores in St. Petersburg.
One book, reportedly worth thousands of dollars, was stolen from Lighthouse Books in October 2019 while another was stolen from Haslam’s Book Store in December. The exact value of each book was not provided.
Authorities said there was a warrant for Thomas’ arrest for a commercial burglary in Ocala, where valuable comic books worth thousands of dollars were stolen. Other cases are pending.