Thousands of endangered animals seized in global customs operation

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Police and customs officials have carried out a global anti-wildlife trafficking operation that has led to the seizure of tens of thousands of endangered animals and the arrest of nearly 600 suspects.

The World Customs Organisation (WCO) and Interpol said that across 109 countries, in June, they conducted nearly 2,000 seizures in a historic operation that helped local authorities round up nearly 10,000 live turtles and tortoises, nearly 1,500 live reptiles, 23 live apes, 30 live big cats, hundreds of pieces of elephant tusk, half a ton of ivory and five rhino horns.

“Wildlife crime not only strips our environment of its resources, it also has an impact through the associated violence, money laundering and fraud,” said Interpol secretary general Juergen Stock.

Interpol released images from the global trafficking haul: Thousands of protected tortoises crawling over each other in a dark container in Kazakhstan; an inquisitive-looking white tiger cub concealed in a pickup in Mexico; and elephant tusks lined up symmetrically on the ground in Kenya.

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Officers with Ecuador’s Environmental Police hold a snapping turtle
Officers with Ecuador’s Environmental Police hold a snapping turtle (Interpol via AP)

Operation Thunderball, which operated out of Interpol’s Singapore innovation complex, led to the arrest of 582 suspects.

Among the discoveries was a ray of hope that some trafficking is slowing: The WCO said it noted slight declines in the seizures of certain species in “a sign that continued enforcement efforts are bearing fruit”.

Conservation groups globally have applauded the anti-trafficking push.

“This massive disruption of criminal networks is key to saving endangered wildlife across the globe,” said the Wildlife Conservation Society.

It warned, however, that seizures and arrests are only a first step, and that “governments now must follow up with strong, meaningful prosecutions”.

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