What do 4,300 birds, 1,500 reptiles, 10,000 turtles and tortoises, 23 primates, 70 truckloads of timber and 30 big cats all have in common? No, they’re not the residents of a new zoo — all of these critical plants and animals were seized in a major international operation that cracked down on wildlife smuggling.

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Throughout the month of June, international police and customs authorities united for ‘Operation Thunderball’ and rescued an astonishing number of dolphins, sharks, lions, tigers, birds, tortoises, parakeets, finches, ivory and rhino horns. The operation was carried out in more than 100 countries and hopefully dealt a serious blow to the $19 billion dollar illegal wildlife trafficking industry.

Over 600 suspects have been identified, with 21 arrests in Spain and three arrests in Uruguay.

Ginette Hemley, senior vice president of the World Wildlife Fund, said Operation Thunderball “underscores why international cooperation is so important to addressing this deadly criminal activity.”

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Wildlife trafficking is a major industry that not only hurts the environment and targets endangered species, but it also supports a far-reaching, violent criminal network. Much of the illegal wildlife trade has shifted online to an internet-based black market. For example, in April of this year, Indonesian police officers detained smugglers who admitted to using Facebook for selling Komodo dragons.

International animal rights advocates, police and conservationists agree that Operation Thunderball was a massive success for the fight against the illegal animal trade. But some argue that national authorities now need to pick up where the international authorities left off and fully prosecute the detained criminals. This will help set an example and further debilitate the illegal network.

Susan Lieberman, vice president for international policy at the Wildlife Conservation Society, said, “This massive disruption of criminal networks is key to saving endangered wildlife across the globe, but seizures and arrests are only the first step — governments now must follow up with strong, meaningful prosecutions.”

+ Interpol

Via New York Times

Images via © INTERPOL