Squirrels are disappearing from Moscow's parks, and Russian authorities say poaching is to blame. But it’s not meat or fur people are after — it's pets.

Russians are apparently nuts for pet squirrels.

Alexei Gorelov, who heads a Moscow ecological control unit, told The Associated Press he increased security at city parks after receiving multiple reports of squirrel poaching.

There are entire websites devoted to the sale of pet squirrels, and Gorelov says they sell for about 5,000 rubles, or $144 each.

The fine for capturing a squirrel is 20,000 rubles, or $573.

Although websites that sell the squirrels describe them as "friendly and gentle," they're not domesticated animals and can be quite dangerous.

Squirrels can carry diseases, parasites and ticks, and bringing a wild squirrel into a home can be extremely stressful for the animal, causing it to become aggressive or ill.

"Wild animals have to be enjoyed from a distance," Gorelov said.

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Laura Moss writes about a variety of topics with a focus on animals, science, language and culture. But she mostly writes about cats.

Where did Moscow's squirrels go?
The busy-tailed rodents are being captured in Moscow's parks and sold on the Internet, prompting police to increase park security.