7 charged in million-dollar Florida flying squirrel trafficking operation

22 Octobre, 2020, 19:47 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • Flying squirrel

A once-soaring (and illegal) flying squirrel traffic ring has been busted in Florida, where poachers allegedly made a small fortune by trapping and selling the rodents as pets on the global market.

The animals were sold to buyers from South Korea who traveled to the U.S.to make their purchases.

The agency said the Florida dealer received more than $213,000 for the animals.

The arrests come after a sweeping multi-state investigation, which started after a concerned citizen tipped off the FWC in January 2019.

The poachers would then deliver the animals to Chicago via rental auto, and an unwitting wildlife exporter would be duped into sending the squirrels to their worldwide destinations. The worldwide retail value of the poached flying squirrels is estimated to be more than $1 million. "The animals were then driven in rental cars to Chicago, where the source of the animals was further concealed, and the animals were exported to Asia by an unwitting global wildlife exporter", according to the FWC. Over the next 19 months, investigators said they pieced together the scheme in which flying squirrels were illegally captured in multiple counties throughout Central Florida. The seventh was a fugitive.

The commission said it has arrested seven people thus far who face 25 felony charges involving "an elaborate organized enterprise to smuggle Florida's wildlife to interstate and worldwide buyers".

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Lawyers for Knox and the others charged were not immediately able to be reached Monday. They look like squirrel poachers.

The removal of the trafficked squirrels from their ecosystems could have an impact on their predators, like owls and "rat snakes that are really good climbers", Johnson said, though because the squirrels have a high reproductive rate, the population will most likely be able to bounce back fairly quickly from the poaching. They face a combined 25 felony charges in connection with the incident, with more arrests pending.

For years, flying squirrels in Florida have been illegally funneled through global smuggling operations to serve as pets in Asia.

South Korean buyers would visit the breeder in Bushnell, Fla., to buy a squirrel, the FWC says.

© Kin Cheung/Reuters, FILE A flying squirrel sits inside a cage for sale at a market in the Baiyun district in China's southern city of Guangzhou Sept. 16, 2004.

"I don't see the point at having a gnawing, nocturnal rodent as a pet", he said.

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