7 individuals have been charged in a Florida-based mostly worldwide flying squirrel trafficking scheme in which hundreds of the creatures ended up exported to Asia, point out conservation officers said on Monday.
As lots of as 3,600 traveling squirrels, a shielded species in the point out, were being trapped in considerably less than three many years, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Fee stated in a assertion. Poachers deployed 10,000 squirrel traps during the area all-around Marion County, Fla., about 80 miles north of Orlando, it stated.
Poachers offered the animals to a wildlife seller, Rodney Knox, in nearby Bushnell, Fla., who then “laundered” them by way of his licensed business, proclaiming that they were bred in captivity, the commission claimed.
Buyers from South Korea traveled to Florida, acquired the squirrels and drove them in rental vehicles to Chicago, the commission said. An “unwitting wildlife exporter” then despatched them to Asia, it reported, and as the plan grew, couriers from Ga used Atlanta as a pit halt for the exporting.
The squirrels have been estimated to be worthy of a lot more than $1 million, and Mr. Knox received $213,800 from the trafficking, the commission reported. 6 of the 7 people have been arrested, while 1 is a fugitive, it claimed, incorporating that four of those people arrested have been from Florida and two from Ga.
Mr. Knox was charged with dollars laundering, grand theft and working in stolen home, among other prices. The other folks face similar costs.
Lawyers for Mr. Knox and the some others charged ended up not promptly in a position to be arrived at on Monday.
The fee was tipped off by a worried citizen in January 2019 about the trapping. During a 19-thirty day period inquiry, the commission stated, investigators identified that the suspects from Florida had also been trapping and trafficking shielded freshwater turtles and alligators by way of comparable signifies.
The investigation provided conservation officials from Illinois, California and Ga, as very well as the U.S. Office of Homeland Security.
Flying squirrels are the smallest of the a few tree squirrel species native to Florida, mentioned Steve Johnson, an affiliate professor of wildlife ecology and conservation at the College of Florida in Gainesville.
They feed on normal squirrel treats like acorns, he said, and roost in hijacked hen nests.
The elimination of the trafficked squirrels from their ecosystems could have an impression on their predators, like owls and “rat snakes that are actually fantastic climbers,” Dr. Johnson said, however mainly because the squirrels have a substantial reproductive price, the populace will most possible be equipped to bounce back rather rapidly from the poaching.
Buyers on the acquiring finish of the trafficking ring possibly bought the flying squirrels as animals. In South Korea and other components of East Asia, cute, exotic animals like flying squirrels are well-liked and are featured in cafes wherever patrons can sip espresso and play with the creatures.
Dr. Johnson, on the other hand, said that the prospective buyers may have gotten more than they bargained for. The traveling squirrels are nocturnal and are most likely a nuisance to have all over at night.
“I really do not see the point at acquiring a gnawing, nocturnal rodent as a pet,” he reported.