Officials Bust Massive Flying Squirrel Trafficking Ring In Florida

In Florida, there have been seven arrests made of suspects believed to be involved in the animal trafficking trade. Florida’s Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission made the announcement that 25 felony charges were filed in a case that has proved to be extremely damaging for roughly 3,600 flying squirrels in the span of 3 years.

Authorities believe that the wildlife dealers have made about $1 million off the trade of the flying squirrels along with all their illegal activities, which include countless charges of racketeering, money laundering, scheming to defraud, and other organized crimes.

So far, the only way that the FWC has been able to describe the enterprise is “elaborate and organized” since they’ve managed to get Florida’s wildlife across state borders and even international borders to their different buyers.

As Maj. Grant Burton, the FWC Investigation’s section leader, explained, these conservation laws in Florida are put in place to protect Florida’s natural resources from exploitation. The activities of these poachers could have adversely affected the wildlife population. As Burton pointed out, it was the initial tip from a “concerned citizen” that got the FWC investigating the matter. This investigation then went on to uncover the major racket that going on.

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The FWC was first alerted to the operation back in January 2019 when they were told by the tipper that they had observed people “illegally trapping flying squirrels in a rural area of Marion County.” The flying squirrels are protected animals in Florida, however, they were still being traded internationally on the black market. It took the authorities 19 months of undercover work in order to unearth the major animal trafficking trade that was operating in central Florida’s seedy underground.

The press release even revealed the depth of the trade, noting that there were even buyers from South Korea looking to purchase flying squirrels. As the FWC explained, “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 international wildlife exporter.”

As the officials continued to share, the operation had couriers who would drive the animals to Atlanta, where they’d be traded off to another transport that would then send them up to Chicago. The authorities explained that it was such a big enterprise that “each of the new participants would not know the identity of the other suspects.”

Besides the flying squirrels, this investigation uncovered evidence that there were other animals being trafficked as well, such as the protected freshwater turtles and alligators. There are additional arrests and charges set to continue, and the case will be prosecuted by the Florida Attorney General’s Office. Hopefully this will help to slow the horrible practice that is animal trafficking.

Anastasia is an American writer and journalist living in Dublin, Ireland. Her Twitter is @AnastasiaArell5.

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