A man who kept more than 50 exotic animals in appalling conditions has been jailed for 26 weeks.

Lee Thompson, 36, of King Edward Road, Laindon was charged with two counts of breaching a ban on keeping a dangerous wild animal, two counts of causing unnecessary suffering to a protected animal; and two counts of keeping a dangerous wild animal without a licence.

He appeared at Basildon Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday, October 3 and was sentenced to 26 weeks imprisonment and fined £115.

In November 2015 officers attended a unit he rented in Cranes Farm Road, Basildon, where they found 45 exotic animals in a very poor condition.

These were 35 different species of snake, one Nile lizard, seven species of spider, one bullfrog and one snapping turtle.

In January officers searched a bedroom he rented in a house in Burdett Avenue, Westcliff, and found a 4ft long spectacled Caiman in a makeshift pen.

There were also 23 snakes and a fattail scorpion. Seven of the snakes had died and been left to decompose.

Thompson had previously been convicted of keeping dangerous wild animals without a licence in 2009 and was banned from keeping them for ten years.

An Essex Police spokesman said: “Thompson kept wild animals in appalling conditions, ultimately causing 17 to die. Not only did he keep them without a licence but showed no care for their wellbeing or their survival.
“He then twice attempted to evade justice.
“We want to thank the RSPCA, particularly RSPCA inspector Rebecca Benson, for their assistance in helping to ensure the remaining animals were appropriately cared for.”

The spiders and nine of the snakes were already dead and the turtle had to be put down.

Seven of the snakes found were also classified as dangerous wild animals and could only be kept under licence.

These were two horned vipers, an Indochinese spitting cobra, two Uracoan rattlesnakes and two Western diamondback rattlesnakes.

The animals were taken into the care of the RSPCA and specially trained handlers.

He was not at the unit at the time the animals were discovered and attempts were made to find him, but these were unsuccessful.

He remained on the run until he was arrested in Napier Close, Basildon, on January 24 this year.

On the same day officers searched the a house in Burdett Avenue, Westcliff

There was no food, water or heat source and the snakes were in poorly ventilated plastic boxes.

Eleven of the animals were classed as dangerous wild animals – the spectacled caiman, two albino monocle cobras, four spitting cobras, the scorpion, a rattlesnake and two copperhead snakes.

The animals were taken into the care of the RSPCA.

During his interview with officers, Thompson claimed the animals found at the industrial unit and at the house were his pets and he had no intention of selling them. He admitted neglecting them.

Thompson, 36, of King Edward Road, Laindon, failed to attend his trial at Basildon Magistrates' Court on Friday, August 17.

He was convicted of all the charges in his absence and arrested in Wallingford, Oxfordshire, on Tuesday, September 11.