Flying squirrels illegally shipped to Asia — Florida agency

Flying squirrel trafficking ring busted by Florida wildlife officials Report

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.

The seven suspects are facing multiple charges including racketeering, money laundering, and scheming to defraud, according to the FWC.

The investigation, which also involved the Illinois Conservation Police, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and Homeland Security Investigations, found that the seven people charged were also involved in the illegal dealing of other animals, including protected freshwater turtles and alligators, according to the FWC.

According to the FWC, the flying squirrels, which were collected over the course of less than three years, have an global value of more than $1 million.

From Chicago, the squirrels were flown to Asia "by an unwitting worldwide wildlife exporter", the press release states.

Investigators allege the flying squirrels were poached in several central Florida counties and sold to Bushnell wildlife breeder Rodney Crendell Knox, 66, owner of Knox Farm, who maintained the creatures had been bred in captivity and allegedly received $213,800 for participating in the scheme.

Buyers from South Korea traveled to the United States and bought the squirrels from the wildlife dealer in Bushnell, according to the press release. Six of the 7 people have been arrested, while 1 is a fugitive, it said, adding that 4 of those arrested were from Florida and 2 from Georgia.

"If it crawls or flies in Florida, and there's a market for it, and it's legal, I'll catch it ... and if I can't, I'll figure a way", Knox told wildlife officers during the course of the investigation, National Geographic reported. The agency said more arrests are expected.

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.

Buyers on the receiving end of the trafficking ring probably purchased the flying squirrels as pets. Contrary to their name, the nocturnal rodents don't fly, but, rather, glide from tree to tree.



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