Thousands of endangered animals seized in customs operation

Thousands of endangered animals seized in customs operation
In this photo provided by Interpol on Wednesday July 10, 2019, Chilean police officers after seizing a Slender-billed Parakeet (Enicognathus Leptorhynchus) in Chile. The World Customs Organization and Interpol said they conducted 1,828 seizures across 109 countries in June and seized nearly 10,000 live turtles and tortoises, 23 live apes, 30 live big cats, hundreds of pieces of elephant tusk, half a ton of ivory and five rhino horns. (Interpol via AP)

Police and customs officials have carried out the most widespread anti-wildlife-trafficking operation ever in a joint global operation that's led to the seizure of tens of thousands of endangered animals and the arrest of nearly 600 suspects.

The World Customs Organization and Interpol said Wednesday 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," Interpol Secretary General Juergen Stock said.

Interpol released searing 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 pick-up in Mexico; and elephant tusks lined up symmetrically on the ground in Kenya.

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

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, "a sign that continued enforcement efforts are bearing fruit."

  • Thousands of endangered animals seized in customs operation
    In this photo provided by Interpol on Wednesday July 10, 2019, Ecuador's Environmental Police officers hold a Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) during checkpoint inspections in Santo Domingo de los Tsachilas, Ecuador. The World Customs Organization and Interpol said they conducted 1,828 seizures across 109 countries in June and seized nearly 10,000 live turtles and tortoises, 23 live apes, 30 live big cats, hundreds of pieces of elephant tusk, half a ton of ivory and five rhino horns. (Interpol via AP)
  • Thousands of endangered animals seized in customs operation
    In this photo provided by Interpol on Wednesday July 10, 2019, a lion cub (Panthera Leo), detected in India by the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau and West Bengal Forest Department and on its way to the United Kingdom from Bangladesh, lies in a cage. The World Customs Organization and Interpol said they conducted 1,828 seizures across 109 countries in June and seized nearly 10,000 live turtles and tortoises, 23 live apes, 30 live big cats, hundreds of pieces of elephant tusk, half a ton of ivory and five rhino horns. (Interpol via AP)
  • Thousands of endangered animals seized in customs operation
    In this photo provided by Interpol on Wednesday July 10, 2019, Border Force officers touch tanned Crocodylus niloticus skins seized by Border Force in England. The World Customs Organization and Interpol said they conducted 1,828 seizures across 109 countries in June and seized nearly 10,000 live turtles and tortoises, 23 live apes, 30 live big cats, hundreds of pieces of elephant tusk, half a ton of ivory and five rhino horns. (Interpol via AP)

Conservations groups globally have applauded the anti-trafficking push.

"This massive disruption of criminal networks is key to saving endangered wildlife across the globe," the Wildlife Conservation Society said in a statement.

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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