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At least seven charged in $1 million flying squirrel trafficking scheme

At least seven charged in $1 million flying squirrel trafficking scheme
© Pratikppf at en.Wikipedia

At least seven people have been charged with trafficking flying squirrels in an elaborate scheme worth an estimated $1 million, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) said in a Monday statement.

The individuals involved in the case have been charged with racketeering, money laundering, scheming to defraud and other organized criminal laws for their participation in the elaborate operation, which allegedly involved poachers from around Central Florida trapping the animals and selling them to a wildlife dealer in Bushnell. The dealer would then launder the squirrels under the false pretense that they were captive bred and sell them into the pet trade in South Korea.

More than 10,000 squirrel traps were deployed to catch as many as 3,600 flying squirrels over a period of less than three years. The dealer allegedly made as much as $213,800 off the scheme during that time, but the total estimated cost after international sales is upwards of a million dollars.

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State and federal task forces were created to investigate the operation, which was first reported by a concerned citizen in January 2019.

"Wildlife conservation laws protect Florida’s precious natural resources from abuse,” said Maj. Grant Burton, FWC Investigation’s section leader. “The concerned citizen who initially reported this activity started an investigation that uncovered a major smuggling operation. These poachers could have severely damaged Florida’s wildlife populations."

Flying squirrels are generally of least concern in conservation status, however two subspecies of northern flying squirrel are federally listed as endangered, and the animals are protected in Florida.

Overall, the global wildlife trade is estimated to be worth between $7 billion and $23 billion, according to National Geographic.