MOSCOW (AP) — One by one, the bushy-tailed residents of Moscow's parks have been disappearing. The problem: Russians have gone nuts for pet squirrels.
Moscow authorities bolstered security last week for all of the city's green areas after city official Alexei Gorelov said he had received multiple reports of squirrel poaching.
Gorelov, who heads an Ecological Control unit, said more police patrols are being dispatched to fend off the poachers, who can be fined up to 20,000 rubles ($573).
Noting that squirrels were of little use for their meat or their fur, he said most were resold as pets for 5,000 rubles ($144) each.
"(Wild) animals have to be enjoyed from a distance," said Gorelov as he scrolled through a Russian website selling squirrel pets.
Despite the website's claims that squirrels are a "friendly and gentle" animal to keep around the house, they can bite and are not domesticated.
Some animal lovers were outraged at the poaching.
"The fine should not be 5,000 rubles, it should be 500,000 rubles for this kind of poaching," said Alexandra Mishenko, a retiree who feeds the squirrels in Moscow's parks.
"We should gather people together and pelt the person who does that with snow," she said, eyes welling with tears.