Seven people have been arrested in the US State of Florida for illegally catching thousands of flying squirrels, a protected wild animal, and selling them as pets internationally.
In January 2019, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) received a complaint about people illegally trapping flying squirrels in a rural area of Marion County.
FWC investigators pieced together an elaborate scheme in which flying squirrels were illegally captured by poachers in multiple counties throughout central Florida.
The suspects put as many as 10,000 squirrel traps throughout central Florida, and 3,600 flying squirrels were captured in less than three years.
The flying squirrels were then sold to a wildlife dealer and were laundered through this dealer’s licensed business, who claimed they were bred in captivity.
According to FWC, buyers from South Korea would travel to the United States and purchase the flying squirrels from the wildlife dealer.
The animals were then driven in rental cars to Chicago, where the animals’ origin was further hidden. The animals were then trafficked to Asia by an international wildlife exporter.
The Florida suspects were dealing in multiple species of wild animals. Protected freshwater turtles and alligators were illegally taken and laundered through other seemingly legitimate licensed businesses. Documents were falsified, concealing the real origin of the animals.