Authorities have rescued thousands of endangered animals and identified nearly 600 suspects in the world’s largest anti-wildlife trafficking sting, officials said.
World Customs Organization (WCO) and Interpol announced that “Operation Thunderball,” a coordinated mission from June 4 to June 30, resulted in nearly 2,000 seizures of live animals and animal parts and triggered worldwide arrests.
“It’s landmark. It’s the first time such a large joint network has been mobilized — across 109 countries,” Interpol’s wildlife expert Henri Fournel told The Associated Press. “What we lacked in tackling wildlife crime was a concerted network and this is what we have now.”
Through the operation, officials said they seized 23 live primates, more than 4,300 birds, almost 1,500 reptiles and nearly 10,000 turtles and tortoises.
Officials also found 440 pieces of elephant tusks and an additional 545 kilograms of ivory, five rhino horns, nearly 74 truckloads of timber and almost 7,7000 wildlife parts from many species.
“As clearly illustrated by the results of Operation Thunderball, close cooperation at international and national levels to combat wildlife crime must never be under-estimated,” WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya said in a release.
Interpol said 582 suspects were arrested worldwide, and further arrests and prosecutions are anticipated as the ongoing global investigations progress.
“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 Jürgen Stock said in a release. “Operations like Thunderball are concrete actions targeting the transnational crime networks profiting from these illicit activities. We will continue our efforts with our partners to ensure that there are consequences for criminals who steal from our environment.”