Reptiles, ivory and polar bear carcasses seized in wildlife crime crackdown

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A month-long global operation against illegal trade in wildlife and timber has resulted in the seizure of thousands of live animals and tons of meat and ivory, international police agency Interpol announced.

Among those arrested were flight attendants carrying turtles in their baggage and a hunter who posted his illegal trophies on social media.

Some 1,400 suspects have been identified worldwide, Interpol said.

The operation, codenamed Thunderstorm, involved police, customs, border, environment, wildlife and forestry agencies in 92 countries, the statement said.

The 1,974 seizures, worth millions of dollars, include 43 metric tons of wild meat – including bear, elephant, crocodile, whale and zebra – 1.3 tons of elephant ivory, 27,000 reptiles, almost 4,000 birds, 48 live primates, 14 big cats and the carcasses of seven bears, including two polar bears.

Several tons of wood and timber were also seized.

“In this operation, these countries focused during the month of May on all sorts of wildlife crimes, whether they be plants, animals, timber,” said Sheldon Jordan, Canada’s director general of wildlife enforcement.

Ecuadorian police officers inspect a bird of prey
Ecuadorian police officers inspect a bird of prey (Interpol via AP)

He added that wildlife crime is the fourth largest crime by value in the world, estimated to be worth 115 billion dollars a year.

Interpol said two flight attendants were arrested in Los Angeles carrying live spotted turtles to Asia in personal baggage.

Both suspects have been charged with smuggling protected species.

A box of Agapornis parrots are intercepted by Mexican police authorities
A box of Agapornis parrots are intercepted by Mexican police authorities (Interpol via AP)

The operation saw eight tons of pangolin scales seized worldwide, half of that by Vietnamese maritime authorities on board a ship arriving from Congo.

Pangolins, the world’s most heavily trafficked mammal, have been brought to the brink of extinction because their scales are popular in Asian traditional medicine.

Young hatchlings intercepted by Mexican police authorities
Young hatchlings intercepted by Mexican police authorities (Interpol via AP)

Interpol secretary general Jurgen Stock said the operation reveals “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”.

Investigative crime intelligence was gathered ahead of the operation and co-ordinated by Interpol and the World Customs Organisation, to help target specific hotspots for action, including land and airport border points and wildlife parks.

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