All the items stolen, included two full African lion mounts, two infant zebras, a troop of baboons and a king penguin, were recovered.
Jason Robert Hopwood, 47, of Drummond Road, Romford, who pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to his part in the burglary and fraudulent use of a registration plate, was sentenced to 21 months' imprisonment, suspended for two years, at Kingston Crown Court on April 4. He was also ordered to work 200 hours' community service.
The court heard how at around 19.30 on March 1, 2016, a burglary took place at the warehouse of London Taxidermy at the Wimbledon Stadium Business Centre.
An angle grinder was used to remove the padlocks and the doors forced open. CCTV footage suggests the van left the scene around 20 minutes later.
Valued at £100,000
Dealer Alexis Turner told ATG he had lost a significant portion of his stock following the raid. However, many of the 27 stolen items with a value of close to £100,000 were immediately identifiable.
Press coverage of the unusual nature of the crime aided in the recovery.
DC Stuart Goss, from Wandsworth CID, said: "I would also like to thank the media, as I am sure reporting of our appeal forced the criminals to abandon the stolen goods. Cataloguing and exhibiting the stolen items was a truly unique and memorable experience”.
Acting on information three weeks after the incident, Essex Police found an abandoned van in the Stapleford Abbots area in Essex. False plates were believed to have been attached and inside were all of the stolen goods. Turner told ATG he received all of the items back within a month after forensic testing and his insurance company had paid out on loss of income.
Hopwood, identified as the owner of the van, is the only member of the gang to be prosecuted in relation to the theft. He was arrested on September 29 and charged on November 10.