Police and customs nab animals, horns and ivory in wildlife trafficking operation

FILE-Interpol Police officers are seen outside the CATAM Military Airbase in Bogota, Columbia on July 1, 2022 (Photo by Sebastian Barros/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Interpol and the World Customs Organization said Tuesday they seized 53 primates, four big cats and more than 1,300 birds, as well as some 300 kilograms of ivory, thousands of turtle eggs, and rhino horns, leopard skins, and lion teeth and paws in their sweeping annual crackdown on wildlife and timber trafficking that this year covered 133 countries.

Interpol said it coordinated around 500 arrests worldwide from Oct. 2 to 27. More than 2,000 confiscations of animals and plants were made. This year’s operation marks the highest participation in Operation Thunder since its inception in 2017.

The live animals were destined for the pet trade, egg harvesting or as a source of meat, while the wildlife parts are used for jewelry or rituals.

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"Important and endangered animals, birds and plants are being put at risk of extinction by wildlife and timber traffickers," said Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock. "These appalling crimes not only deprive the world of unique animals and plants but also countries of their natural assets."

As part of the operation, hundreds of vehicles, including cars, trucks, and cargo ships, were searched at checkpoints across all regions. Specialized sniffer dogs and X-ray scanners were deployed to detect hidden wildlife and camouflaged timber shipments. Hundreds of parcels, suitcases, vehicles, boats, and cargo transporters were examined.

Interpol stresses the links between environmental crime and other forms of crime, including violence, corruption, and financial crime.

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WCO highlighted the critical role of customs in disrupting criminal networks through strict border controls, intelligence-sharing, and technological advancements.

WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya said this involves "enforcing strict controls at borders" to thwart traffickers and "intelligence-sharing, championing collaboration and adopting technological advancements" in customs operations.

Operation Thunder is an annual joint-operation coordinated by Interpol and the WCO, with the backing of intergovernmental organizations.