The Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) Division’s Enforcement Section recently confiscated a gray squirrel and several southern flying squirrels from an individual in Bibb County. The confiscation resulted in an uproar on social media and created significant interest in the news media.

Acting in response to complaints from the public, WFF Enforcement Officers contacted the individual on August 26 and seized five squirrels that were being kept in captivity contrary to state law. The individual in this incident received two written warnings for illegal possession of protected wildlife.

The same individual was ticketed in Florida in 2013 for unlawful possession of a protected migratory bird and rehabilitating wildlife without a permit.  Some of the animals seized reportedly were transported from Florida when the suspect moved to Bibb County, Alabama.

Possession of the squirrels is a violation of Alabama law that makes it unlawful to possess wildlife under provisions of regulation 220-2-.26(6). Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) officials are also investigating whether the individual is in violation of regulation 220-2-.26(1), which makes it illegal to import into the State of Alabama any wild rodents. The gray squirrel and southern flying squirrels are considered wild rodents.

“As I said last year when our Enforcement Section had to deal with several cases of illegally possessed white-tailed deer, no matter how cute and cuddly they are, they are still wild animals,” said WFF Director Chuck Sykes. “Again, we cannot turn a blind eye to these violations. The animals have to be confiscated. It may not be the popular thing to do, but it is our job to protect the public from the potential threats that wild animals pose to humans. In one of those cases last year, a man in Marshall County suffered serious injuries, including the loss of vision in one eye.”

If the investigation determines the individual imported the wild rodents into Alabama, she could face federal charges under the Lacey Act, a law that prohibits the crossing of state lines while in violation of the laws of either of the adjoining states.

Only approved permitted wildlife rehabilitators are allowed to keep wild animals in captivity.

“There is a system in place for those who are interested in wildlife rehabilitation to obtain proper permits in order to truly help wildlife,” said Marianne Hudson, Wildlife Section Rehabilitator Coordinator.  “The regulations enforced by the State of Alabama are in accordance with the best interests of wildlife and the public. To possess a wild animal as a pet demonstrates a misunderstanding of the purposes of wildlife rehabilitation.”

The animals seized in this instance were relocated to a permitted rehabilitator for proper assessment and reintroduction to the wild if possible.

John Morse of Big Bend Wildlife Sanctuary in Enterprise, Ala., an approved wildlife rehabilitator, said many people think they are qualified to rehabilitate wildlife and have good intentions, but they don’t have the training or facilities to properly prepare the animals to be released back into the wild.

In the past year, WFF officials have adopted stringent guidelines as to who qualifies to be included in the wildlife rehabilitator program.

“We’ve been working with Director Sykes, and we totally agree the wildlife rehabilitator system had to be more structured,” Morse said. “The structure needed to be there. We’re working with Director Sykes to tweak it, but we totally agree with the program.”

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through five divisions: Marine Police, Marine Resources, State Parks, State Lands, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR visit www.outdooralabama.com.

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