Forty-three tons of bear, elephant, crocodile, whale and zebra meat. Thousands of pounds of ivory. Almost 4,000 pelicans, ostriches and parrots, more than 27,000 reptiles, including 10,000 snakes, live primates, tigers and the carcasses of two polar bears.
This was part of the “haul” from a month-long worldwide police crackdown on the illegal trade of wildlife.
Codenamed Thunderstorm, it involved police, customs, border and other authorities from 92 countries. They ended up with nearly 2,000 seizures and 1,400 suspects.
“The operation saw eight tons of pangolin scales seized worldwide, including almost four tons by Vietnamese maritime authorities on board a ship arriving from the Democratic Republic of Congo,” according to a new report from INTERPOL, the worldwide policy force.
“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.”
One man who was detained had unwisely put photographs of a hunt on social media, revealing his fox, jackal and mongoose takes.
And Canadian authorities intercepted a container holding 18 tons 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.
“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,” he said.
Intel was compiled ahead of time to identify hot spots for illegal activity, including wildlife parks, and the officers then move in en masse.
“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 cooperation in keeping our natural heritage safe, both now and for future generations,” said WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya.
“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,” added Mikuriya.
Senior officer Grant Miller of the U.K. Border Force and head of the U.K. national CITES enforcement team, said: “Through Operation Thunderstorm, criminals have seen the products they need to ply their trade seized and their illegal profits targeted. Organized crime groups engaging in wildlife crime will feel the impact of this operation for a long time.”