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Wildlife crime: global seizures and arrests in transcontinental operation

An international operation against the illegal trade in wildlife and timber has seen hundreds of seizures worldwide as well as suspects arrested.

June 22, 2018  By Staff

Codenamed “Thunderstorm,” the operation involved police, customs, border, environment, wildlife and forestry agencies from 92 countries, including Canada, and resulted in millions of dollars-worth of seizures, according to Interpol.

The month-long operation in May has so far brought 1,974 seizures and the identification of some 1,400 suspects. Further arrests and prosecutions are foreseen as ongoing investigations unfold.

Total worldwide seizures reported to date include:
•    43 tonnes of wild meat (including bear, elephant, crocodile, whale and zebra)
•    1.3 tonnes of raw and processed elephant ivory
•    27,000 reptiles (including 869 alligators/crocodiles, 9,590 turtles and 10,000 snakes)
•    almost 4,000 birds, including pelicans, ostriches, parrots and owls
•    several tonnes of wood and timber
•    48 live primates
•    14 big cats (tiger, lion, leopard and jaguar)
•    the carcasses of seven bears, including two polar bears

Canadian authorities intercepted a container holding 18 tonnes of eel meat arriving from Asia. Thought to be poached from Europe originally, the juvenile glass eels had been reared in Asia before being dispatched to North American markets for consumption.
The operation also saw eight tonnes of pangolin scales seized worldwide, including almost four tonnes by Vietnamese maritime authorities on board a ship arriving from the Democratic Republic of Congo.


Two flight attendants were arrested in Los Angeles attempting to smuggle live spotted turtles to Asia in their personal baggage.
A man was arrested in Israel and awaits deportation to Thailand after his hunting photograph on social media led to the seizure of multiple wildlife items at his home including fox, jackal and mongoose bodies.

The second in a global ‘Thunder’ series initiated by the Interpol Wildlife Crime Working Group, Operation Thunderstorm was co-ordinated by Interpol and the World Customs Organization (WCO) in conjunction with the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), which includes the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Secretariat, UNODC and the World Bank.

Investigative crime intelligence was gathered ahead of the operation 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 specialist sniffer dogs and x-ray scanners.

“By leveraging the global network of worldwide environmental law enforcement experts and customs community’s commitment to protecting wildlife, WCO and its partners have clearly illustrated the power and effectiveness of international co-operation in keeping our natural heritage safe, both now and for future generations,” said WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya.

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