A month-long police and customs cross border operation (September 14 – October 11) has resulted in large seizures of protected wildlife and forestry specimens and products, triggering arrests and investigations worldwide.
Focusing on pre-identified routes and hotspots, Operation Thunder 2020 resulted in more than 2,000 seizures of wildlife and forestry products. In total, 699 offenders were apprehended and at least one INTERPOL Red Notice has already been requested based on information gained during the operation. Further arrests and prosecutions are anticipated as ongoing global investigations progress.
Participating countries focused on particularly vulnerable species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an international agreement aimed at ensuring the international trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
In Cameroon, customs officers seized 187 raw elephant tusks (856 kg of ivory) from a truck crossing the border from Gabon.
Mexican law enforcement rescued an adult female white tiger, a jaguar and a four-month old lion cub in Sinaloa.
Police in Zimbabwe thwarted the transfer of 32 live chimpanzees from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
India Customs intercepted an 18-tonne shipment of red sandalwood destined for the UAE.
The total seized contraband included:
- Over 1.3 tonnes of ivory
- Over 1 tonne of pangolin scales, representing approximately 1,700 killed pangolins
- 56,200 kg of marine products
- 87 truckloads of timber (950 tonnes)
- 15,878 kg of plants
More than 45,500 live animal and plant specimens were recovered during the operation, including 1,400 turtles and tortoises and 6,000 turtle or tortoise eggs, 1,160 birds and 1,800 reptiles.
“Wildlife and forestry crime is the world’s fourth largest illegal trade – a lucrative illegal business with far-reaching and devastating consequences not just for the environment but also for society, public health and global economics,” said Jürgen Stock, INTERPOL Secretary General.
“Wildlife and forestry crime often occurs hand in hand with tax evasion, corruption, money laundering and even murder, with organized crime groups using the same routes to smuggle protected wildlife as they do people, weapons, drugs and other illegal products,” added Secretary General Stock.
Operation Thunder 2020 faced a number of challenges, with law enforcement officers needing to comply with a variety of new restrictions and protection protocols in light of the coronavirus pandemic. The World Customs Organization’s Environment Program and INTERPOL’s Environment Security Program coordinated Operation Thunder 2020 entirely virtually, facilitating law enforcement efforts via secured communication and reporting channels.
Moreover, field officers are regularly attacked by poachers and crime syndicates. During this operation, five police officers and three forestry police officers in North Macedonia were attacked – two of them seriously injured – while attempting to prevent illegal logging activities.
In this context, the operation’s results demonstrate both the extent to which wildlife and forestry crime has continued throughout the pandemic and the ability of law enforcement to continue to successfully coordinate their actions in global operations.
Thunder 2020 is the fourth in a series of ‘Thunder’ operations carried out annually since 2017, which have resulted in significant seizures and the arrest of thousands of suspects engaged in the illegal trade of wildlife and timber species.