Florida suspects arrested in million-dollar flying squirrel trafficking ring

Rodiano Bonacci
Ottobre 24, 2020

Poachers are accused of illegally catching more than 3,500 flying squirrels, a protected species in Florida, over a three-year period, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. One suspect in the case is still free.

'These poachers could have severely damaged Florida's wildlife populations, ' said Maj.

"Investigators learned buyers from South Korea would travel to the United States and purchase the flying squirrels from the wildlife dealer in Bushnell".

Last January, the FWC launched an investigation into a complaint from a citizen who was concerned individuals were illegally trapping the animals, which are often dubbed "gliding squirrels" because they have the capacity to glide through the air between trees.

Poachers sold the animals to a wildlife dealer, Rodney Knox, in nearby Bushnell, Florida, who then "laundered" them through his licensed business, claiming that they were bred in captivity, the commission said.

Nearly 3,600 flying squirrels were moved by the ring in a span of three years. The FWC estimates the global retail value of the animals exceeds $1 million, and that the wildlife dealers grossed as much as $213,800. "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 worldwide wildlife exporter", according to the FWC.

As the operation grew, couriers from the state of Georgia would take over the transports, officials said.

"Each of the new participants would not know the identity of the other suspects", Knowles said. However, two subspecies of northern flying squirrel are federally listed as endangered, and the animals are protected in Florida. They face a combined 25 felony charges in connection with the incident, with more arrests pending.

Flying squirrels weren't the only victims: The suspects also profited from dealings with other poached animals - protected freshwater turtles and alligators with falsified documents to hide their origin.

"Documents were falsified, concealing the true source of the wildlife", Knowles said. The Florida Attorney General's Office is prosecuting the crimes involved.

David Goodhue covers the Florida Keys and South Florida for FLKeysNews.com and the Miami Herald.

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