Flying squirrel trafficking ring busted by Florida wildlife officials

Pablo Tucker
October 22, 2020

Poachers deployed 10,000 squirrel traps throughout the area around Marion County, Florida, about 80 miles north of Orlando, it said.

Flying squirrels, a protected wild animal in Florida, are sold internationally in the pet trade.

The poachers would then deliver the animals to Chicago via rental auto, and an unwitting wildlife exporter would be duped into sending the squirrels to their worldwide destinations. One suspect remains a fugitive. The squirrels were then driven by rental auto to Chicago, where they were exported to Asia by an "unwitting" worldwide wildlife exporter, officials said.

The commission said it has arrested seven people thus far who face 25 felony charges involving "an elaborate organized enterprise to smuggle Florida's wildlife to interstate and global buyers". The agency estimated the retail value of the captured animals at more than $1 million.

Buyers from South Korea traveled to the United States and bought the squirrels from the wildlife dealer in Bushnell, according to the press release.

Flying squirrels are the smallest of the three tree squirrel species native to Florida, said Steve Johnson, an associate professor of wildlife ecology and conservation at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

Four of the accused are from Florida and two are from Georgia. A second hired courier would then drive the animals to Chicago.

Knox was charged with money laundering, grand theft and dealing in stolen property, among other charges. "Documents were falsified concealing the true source of the wildlife".

Those identified as suspect in the case include: Rodney Crendell Knox, 66, of Bushnell, Florida; Kenneth Lee Roebuck, 59, of Lake Panasoffkee, Florida; Donald Lee Harrod Jr, 51, of Bushnell, Florida; Vester Ray Taylor Jr, 40, of Webster, Florida; Jong Yun Baek, 56, of Marietta, Georgia; and Ervin Woodyard Jr, 40, of Greenville, Georgia. The concerned citizen who initially reported this activity started an investigation that uncovered a major smuggling operation. Grant Burton, who leads the Florida wildlife commission's investigation section.

The Florida suspects also illegally shipped protected freshwater turtles and alligators from Tampa to Los Angeles, where California authorities intercepted the reptiles, the agency said.

"Wildlife conservation laws protect Florida's precious natural resources from abuse", said Maj.

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