Global Crackdown on Wildlife Trafficking Recovers Thousands of Animals

Nearly 100 countries took part in a global operation that recently uncovered thousands of live animals and illegal trade items.
Amanda Carrozza
Published: June 21, 2018
elephant wildlife trafficking An international operation against wildlife trafficking and illegal trade has resulted in the recovery of thousands of live animals, wild meat, elephant ivory and more. The global efforts, which began May 1, also resulted in the identification of nearly 1,400 suspects, with further arrests and prosecutions expected as investigations unfold. Nearly 100 countries took part in the month-long operation with the goal of exposing the international reach of traffickers.

“Operation Thunderstorm has seen significant seizures at the global level, showing how coordinated global operations can maximize impact,” Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock said. “By revealing how wildlife trafficking groups use the same routes as criminals involved in other crime areas — often hand-in-hand with tax evasion, corruption, money laundering and violent crime — Operation Thunderstorm sends a clear message to wildlife criminals that the world’s law enforcement community is homing in on them.”

Live Animals, Meat and Ivory Recovered
Interpol, the world’s largest international police organization and leader of the operation, reported that the contraband uncovered included:
  • 27,000 reptiles, including 869 alligators and crocodiles, 9,590 turtles, and 10,000 snakes
  • Nearly 4,000 birds, including pelicans, ostriches, parrots and owls
  • 48 live primates
  • 14 big cats (tigers, lions, leopards and jaguars)
  • Carcasses of seven bears, including two polar bears
  • 43 tons of wild meat, including bear, elephant, crocodile, whale and zebra meat
  • 1.3 tons of raw and processed elephant ivory
  • Eight tons of pangolin scales
  • Several tons of wood and timber

Arrests made as a result of the operation included two flight attendants who were apprehended in Los Angeles as they attempted to bring live spotted turtles to Asia in their personal baggage. According to Interpol, both suspects have been charged with smuggling protected species. In Israel, a man was arrested after his hunting photograph on social media led to the seizure of multiple wildlife items at his home, including fox, jackal and mongoose carcasses.

Operation Thunderstorm
Coined “Operation Thunderstorm,” this was the second in a global “Thunder” series initiated by the Interpol Wildlife Crime Working Group and coordinated by Interpol and the World Customs Organization (WCO) in conjunction with the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime — which also includes the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the World Bank.

Ahead of the operation, investigative crime intelligence was gathered to help target specific hotspots for action, including land and airport border points and wildlife parks. Cars, trucks, boats and cargo transporters suspected of moving illicit products were also targeted with searches carried out by officers, often with specialized dogs and X-ray scanners.

“Operation Thunderstorm clearly demonstrates that by pooling our transnational law enforcement collaboration in the field, WCO and Interpol firmly contribute to making sure that borders everywhere divide criminals but connect customs and law enforcement as a whole to make the world a safer place,” WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya, PhD, said.

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