(NEWS SERVICE FLORIDA) - The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reported Monday it has made six arrests and a seventh person is wanted in a trafficking operation that centered on poaching flying squirrels from rural Marion County.
In less than three years, the state agency estimated up to 3,600 flying squirrels were captured as part of an operation that involved a wildlife dealer in Bushnell and rental cars being used to transport animals to Chicago and Atlanta for buyers from South Korea.
“As FWC investigators monitored the operation, they learned the Florida suspects were dealing in multiple species of poached animals,” the commission said in a news release. “Protected freshwater turtles and alligators were illegally taken and laundered through other seemingly legitimate licensed businesses. Documents were falsified concealing the true source of the wildlife.”
Tipped off to the operation in January 2019, the wildlife agency estimated the retail value of the poached squirrels topped $1 million.
The suspects who have been charged, four from Florida and two from Georgia, face charges that include racketeering, money laundering, dealing in stolen property and scheming to defraud. Florida also has grappled with other poaching issues.
In June, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a bill that seeks to curb poaching of black bears during closed seasons, a practice that, at least in part, stems from the animals being killed for their gallbladders.
Bear bile, secreted by the liver and stored in the gallbladder, can bring in hundreds or thousands of dollars on the black market, where it is promoted as a cure for numerous ills.