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2 face charges as officers find animals stacked in cages

July 2, 2021 GMT

BISHOPVILLE, S.C. (AP) — Two women face criminal charges after South Carolina Department of Natural Resources officers found more than 200 squirrels stacked in cages inside a mobile home near Bishopville.

The department says wildlife officers also found deer, armadillos and potentially invasive nutria on the property.

Officers went to the property Tuesday to serve search warrants related to illegal possession of deer. The women are also charged with inhumane treatment to animals and illegal possession of non-native wildlife species. All the crimes are misdemeanors. The women have been released from jail.

Nutria are large rodents native to South America that can damage marshes and other wetlands, as well as destroy the banks of streams and lakes and destroy crops. The invasive animals have heavily damaged marshlands in Louisiana after becoming established there.

“The question is, how did they come to have these animals in South Carolina,” DNR spokesman David Lucas told The Post and Courier of Charleston.

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The two women told others they were rehabilitating wildlife, Lucas said. Some animals were in cages stacked in the mobile home’s living room, while others were roaming the home. Other animals were kept outside.

State officials, Lee County Animal Control and local veterinarians are seeking places to keep animals confiscated from the property.

“Right now, our number one concern is the welfare of these animals,” said SCDNR Deputy Director of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Emily Cope. “It’s a very challenging situation to deal with, mainly because of the sheer number of animals that were being kept on this site, and the deplorable conditions that existed there.”

Some animals were found dead. Native species that survived and are free of diseases may be released into the wild.