By David Burghardt
All parks and squares in Moscow have come under "strict control" after receiving information on the alleged kidnapping of squirrels in the public areas, the head of the ecological control department of the Eastern and Northeastern districts of the capital, Alexei Gorelov, told RIA Novosti on Friday.
Gorelov said his department was informed that people have been apparently capturing squirrels in several parks in order to sell them. He named two parks in particular: Khlebnekovsky and Ostankinsky parks.
"Beginning today strict control over natural territories (parks) in Moscow has been implemented in order to stop incidents of hunting wild animals," Gorelov said.
He said capturing animals in Moscow is on the same par in legal terms as hunting, which is against the law in the city. Squirrels are not registered in the Red Book of endangered species, so a fine of only 20,000 rubles (around $570) can be enforced.
"Right before my eyes, three men were running around a tree that a squirrel was in. They had a pole with a noose [attached to it\ and were obviously attempting to catch the animal," Yelena Viktorovna told Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper about an attempted squirrel snatching in 50-letiya Oktyabrya Park.
Prices on the Internet for squirrels start from 5,000 rubles apiece, and squirrel salesmen are ready to buy them for 1,500 per head, according to the newspaper.
Gorelov said that more patrols would be dispatched in parks and police would also be involved in catching the poachers.