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Authorities Worldwide Target Wildlife, Timber Smugglers

An international operation against illegal trade in wildlife and timber has seen hundreds of seizures worldwide, INTERPOL announced June 20. Codenamed "Thunderstorm" and targeting people and networks behind global wildlife crime, the operation involved police, customs, border, environment, wildlife, and forestry agencies from 92 countries and resulted in millions of dollars' worth of seizures. The May 1-31 operation has so far brought 1,974 seizures and the identification of some 1,400 suspects, triggering arrests and investigations worldwide. Seizures as of June 20 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

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. Both suspects have been charged with smuggling CITES-protected species, and a transnational investigation has been opened between the involved countries. Also, 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. Follow-up inquiries have revealed that the suspect was also engaged in people smuggling and illegal employment.

The second operation in a global "Thunder" series initiated by the INTERPOL Wildlife Crime Working Group, Operation Thunderstorm was coordinated by INTERPOL and the World Customs Organization 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.

"Operation Thunderstorm has seen significant seizures at global level, showing how coordinated global operations can maximize impact," said INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock. "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."

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