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Wildlife Crime: Global Seizures and Arrests in Transcontinental Operation – Code Name: Operation Thunderstorm

Press Release
LYON, France – An international operation against the illegal trade in wildlife and timber has seen hundreds of seizures worldwide as well as suspects arrested.

Codenamed Thunderstorm and targeting the 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 month-long (1-31 May) operation has so far brought 1,974 seizures and the identification of some 1,400 suspects, triggering arrests and investigations worldwide. 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

The operation 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.

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.

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.

An Integrated Global Response

The second in a global ‘Thunder’ series initiated by the INTERPOL Wildlife Crime Working Group, Operation Thunderstorm was coordinated 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

“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,” added the Secretary General.

Operation Thunderstorm : Month-long transcontinental operation hit wildlife criminals hard... | Poaching | Wildlife Crime

An Intelligence-Driven Operation

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 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 Dr Mikuriya.

Results will continue to be analysed globally to generate intelligence which will be used as guidance in future national, regional and international law enforcement efforts.

Organized Wildlife Crime: Everybody’s Business

The organized crime groups behind wildlife crime target high-value animal and plant specimens, and operate through complex global criminal networks. Driven by profit, the activities of these groups can have devastating economic, social and environmental impacts.

Ben Janse van Rensburg, CITES Secretariat Chief of Enforcement Support said: “No one country, region or agency can tackle illegal wildlife trade alone. Collective action across source, transit and destination states is essential. On behalf of all ICCWC partner agencies, I commend the excellent work done in member countries - Operation Thunderstorm is testimony to what can be achieved if we all work together.”

Senior officer Grant Miller of the UK Border Force and head of the UK 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.”

Mr Miller is also chair of the INTERPOL Wildlife Crime Working Group, which leads a number of projects to combat the poaching, trafficking, or possession of legally protected flora and fauna.

Operation Thunderstorm involved police, customs, border, environment, wildlife and forestry agencies from 92 countries and resulted in millions of dollars-worth of seizures, including 14 big cat bodies and dozens of big cat body parts.

The operation targeted protected animals, including birds of prey such as this one intercepted by Ecuador police.

Cars, trucks, boats and cargo transporters suspected of moving illicit products were targeted with searches carried out by officers at checkpoints such as this one in Ecuador.

Operation Thunderstorm saw the seizure of some 1.3 tonnes of raw and processed elephant ivory, including during this seizure in Arusha (Tanzania) where elephant tusks and horns of rhino, bush buck, impala and buffalo were also recovered.

Passengers and luggage were inspected via x-ray scanners at Los Angeles International Airport by US Fish and Wildlife Forensics officer.

Luggage and cargo suspected of containing illicit products were also targeted at land and airport border points, with searches often carried out by specialist sniffer dogs.

Operation Thunderstorm involved police, customs, border, environment, wildlife and forestry agencies from 93 countries, including Chile’s Investigations Police – PDI which intercepted a wide range of bird species.

Operation Thunderstorm resulted in the rescue of almost 4,000 birds including these Amazona autumnalis parrots intercepted by Mexican Police authorities.

Operation Thunderbird saw the seizure of 9,590 turtles, including these small turtles intercepted by Malaysian police authoritie.

The global wildlife and forestry operation saw the seizure of almost 4,000 birds, including young hatchings such as these two intercepted as they were being smuggled out of Mexico.

Some 27,000 reptiles were recovered during the month-long operation, including 869 alligators/crocodiles such as this one seized in Ecuador.

Investigative crime intelligence was gathered ahead of the operation to help target specific hotspots for action, resulting in seizures such as this batch of Hawksbill sea turtle shells heading towards Vietnam from Miami.

Canadian wildlife officer (Quebec) inspects a Polar Bear pelt for trade compliance.

Operation Thunderstorm resulted in millions of dollars-worth of seizures across the globe, including this crate of bear carcass and bear meat in Canada.

Africa’s Tiny 10

We have all heard of Africa's Big 5 (cape buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion, rhinoceros) but did you know there is also a Tiny 10? That's right, hunters set out in search of ten tiny species of African pygmy antelope. The hunt can be quite challenging (1) due to presenting a small sized target, (2) coordinating and planning as these species spread from Kenya to South Africa, and (3) because most who hunt in Africa are primarily seeking much larger game, selecting the proper firearm & ammo is extremely important.

Let's meet Africa's Tiny Ten...

The Blue Duiker is the smallest member of the duiker family and the smallest antelope in Southern Africa; measuring only 32-41 centimeters (10-14 inches) at the shoulder and weighing 8-10lbs.

The Cape Grusbok (or Southern Grysbok) stands nearly 20 inches tall and weighs approximately 20lbs.

The Common Duiker (or Grey, Bush Duiker) is one of the larger species in the Tiny 10; standing 23-25 inches in height at the shoulder and weighs 35 to 45lbs.

The Damara Dik-Dik is the smallest antelope in Namibia; standing 12-15 inches and weighing only 6-13lbs.

The Klipspringer can be found in eastern and southern Africa; they reach approximately 17-24 inches at the shoulders and weigh 18-40lbs.

The Oribi is slightly larger than the Klingsprings, reaching 20-26 inches and weighing 26-49lbs.

The Red Forest Duiker (or Natal, Natal Red Duiker) can be found from Tanzania to southern Africa; reaching only 16 inches at the shoulders and weighing 33lbs.

The Sharpe's Grysbok weigh about 15-24lbs and stands about 20 inches at the shoulders.

The Steenbok (or Steinbuck, Steinbok) reaches 16-24 inches at the shoulders and weighs approximately 24lbs.

The Suni antelope resides in the underbrush from Kenya to southern Africa; standing 11-16 inches at the shoulders and weighs only 10-12lbs.

Columbia Bottom Conservation Area – Sunflower Field

Many of you saw the article published by Only In Missouri last week (June 28th) sharing this amazing sunflower field in Columbia Bottom Conservation Area. Curious, we went to check it out. However, due to flooding earlier this year, the seedlings are only a few inches tall but are still a beautiful adventure. We'll be heading back out in a few weeks to do another flyover when they're in full bloom. 🌻

The Columbia Bottom Conservation Area is controlled by the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Who farms these fields? Crops are carefully selected and planted according to an area management plan that especially benefits waterfowl during spring and fall migrations. Farmers bid on the opportunity to cultivate the rich ground, then pay to raise crops here.
Depending on when you visit, you may see the farmers planting in spring or summer and harvesting in the fall and winter. In the summer growing season, croplands are used by wildlife for food and cover. Birds pull insects from young plants. Harvested fields are often layered with cut plants and scattered grains, food for deer, turkey and waterfowl in winter. Some winter fields are planted in wheat, which comes up green during the fall and matures in spring and early summer. Geese and deer graze on the tender blades. Some plantings, such as sunflowers, are not harvested at all, but grown just for doves and other birds to eat.
When managing 1,000 to 2,000 acres of open land, farmers are essential to the Missouri Department of Conservation. The farmers play a valuable role in maintaining the open lands as a healthy habitat for wildlife.

Food for everyone... The farmers here plant and harvest corn, soybeans, wheat and other crops that help feed the world. Grains harvested from the fields become part of the foods you eat each day, such as wheat for bread and corn for cereals.
Farmers using these field agree to leave a portion of their crop standing for wildlife, too. Leftover grain is eaten by deer, turkey, waterfowl and doves and is an additional source of energy for winter survival.
Croplands are a key ingredient in the area's management. Although forests are important, many wild animals also need open land. Agriculture is an effective tool that allows farmers to take advantage of the rich bottomland soil, while providing essential open space to waterfowl, shorebirds and other wildlife.

Stay tuned for updates!!!