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Miami International Targets Wildlife Smugglers

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(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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South Florida Crime

MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) — Wildlife inspectors at Miami International Airport are trying to keep illegal animal imports from entering the country as the airport leads the nation in shipments of both living and dead animals, according to the The Miami Herald.

One in every three wildlife inspections at the busy airport leads to law enforcement involvement, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The agency recently discovered an illegal shipment of 200 flying squirrels. Illegal animal products confiscated at the airport include a South American jaguar pelt, a caiman alligator skin and a sea turtle shell.

David Pharo, resident agent in charge of law enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in South Florida, said many shipments have bogus permits for zoos and circuses. Pharo said smugglers also like to hide banned animals in shipments with similar animals that are approved for import.

The federal agency’s nine local inspectors are overwhelmed by the volume of illegal animal imports passing through Miami’s main airport, he said.

In 2013, importers at the airport declared 11,000 international shipments of live wildlife — and there’s no way to accurately estimate undeclared smuggling, he said.

Inspectors can examine only about 20 percent of the flow, he said.

Many of the illegal shipments involving corals, invasive marine species or endangered marine species,” he said.

Last year, Pharo’s office uncovered several conspiracies involving aquariums in other states like Idaho and Michigan that were illegally harvesting marine life from the Keys and then ferrying them back north. Pharo said the cases highlight how Miami so often figures in the smuggling trade, from cocaine to corals.

“There always seems to be a Miami connection somewhere along the way,” Pharo said.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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