Animal Smugglers Feel Bite of International Police Crackdown

August 19, 2019
Wildlife trafficking

A global crackdown on the trafficking of wild animals has led to over 700 arrests since May 2019. Two Interpol initiatives, Operation Blizzard and Operation Thunderball, have been largely responsible. By bringing together law enforcement agencies from more than 20 countries, the international policing organization has sought to stem the illicit trade of reptiles and exotic pets, which has seen an explosion in activity over the past two decades.

In May, Operation Blizzard started targeting suspected reptile smugglers after months of intelligence-gathering efforts and cross-border cooperation. Within a month, the operation had led to the seizure of more than 4,000 reptiles. Raids were carried out at airports, breeding sites and exotic animal stores across Europe and North America. Among the recovered animals were 20 alligators and crocodiles, six boa snakes and 150 fashion items made from reptile skins.

Reports by border agencies reveal the poor treatment of these animals. Sheldon Jordan, head of the wildlife crime unit of Environment and Climate Change Canada, said that three of the nine smuggled reptiles he uncovered had died in transit, showing how deadly this illicit trade can be.

“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’s secretary general, Jürgen Stock.

Since the success of Operation Blizzard, Interpol has remained focused on bringing international wildlife smugglers to justice. Operation Thunderball led a similar sting operation in July, launching coordinated raids in 109 countries. Global seizures so far have included 23 live primates, 30 big cats, 545 kilograms of ivory and 10,000 live turtles and tortoises. Just under 600 people have been arrested.

The operation was organized from the Operations Coordination Centre at Interpol’s Global Complex for Innovation in Singapore. Through their international network of police agencies, the initiative aimed to identify trafficking routes and suspected smuggling hot spots. Police and environmental officers then worked closely with border agencies to track criminals and seize protected wildlife and illicit animal-based products.

Many of those arrested during the operations were simply middle men paid to smuggle illicit goods between borders, rather than organized crime leaders. Sergio Tirro, one of the officers involved in the initiative, noted that this was often the case when executing the sting operation. However, such raids are crucial in building cases against the gangs that are coordinating the illegal trade.

“This operation clearly demonstrates the value of international cooperation. It also illustrates the scale of this massive and well-organized trade. Operations like Thunderball are concrete actions targeting the transnational crime networks profiting from these illicit activities,” said Chris Shepherd, executive director of Monitor, a nonprofit dedicated to combating illegal wildlife trade.

Click the following links for more information on Interpol’s Operation Blizzard or Operation Thunderball.

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