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  • Jack Elvey

Taking a "timber" to illegal logging and eco-smuggling: INTERPOL Crackdown on the illegal wildlife

The illegal exploitation and harm of the natural environment, known as environmental crime, is a growing concern globally. Sometimes overlooked in debates on sustainability, these types of crimes can have significant negative impacts on ecosystems, biodiversity, and human health and have notably been committed not just by individuals and gangs, but by corrupt governments and organisations.

In the ongoing battle for global sustainability, INTERPOL (International Criminal Police Organisation) has taken a strong stance against the illegal wildlife and timber trade. The international law enforcement organisation has launched a series of operations to disrupt criminal networks involved in these activities.

INTERPOL's efforts to crack down on this illegal trade are critical in protecting endangered species, preserving natural resources, and promoting sustainable development. The organisation continues to work closely with other international agencies, NGOs, and governments to combat this illegal trade, and to support and promote the conservation of biodiversity and the sustainable use of natural resources.

INTERPOL’s most recent “crackdown” on these activities was led alongside the World Customs Organisation (WCO) and resulted in hundreds of arrests and the disruption of criminal networks involved in the illegal wildlife and timber trade. Codenamed "Thunder 2022", the operation took place from the 3rd of October to the 30th and brought together law enforcement agencies from 125 countries to contribute, making it the largest operation of its kind since 2017. The operation involved routine inspections and targeted controls at border checkpoints using sniffer dogs and X-ray scanners to examine parcels, suitcases, vehicles, boats, and cargo transporters. The focus was on illegally traded species protected by national legislation or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Seizures included live animals, animal parts, bushmeat, and derivatives such as clothing, beauty products, food items, traditional medicines, and handicrafts.

Operation Thunder 2022 has achieved impressive results by seizing nearly 2,200 items and identifying 934 individuals linked to illegal trading, processing, exporting, and importing of protected wildlife and forestry products. The operation has also resulted in a wave of arrests and investigations worldwide and even led to the identification of 141 companies suspected of illegal sales. Operation Thunder 2022 has been a major triumph in the battle against illegal wildlife and timber practices.

As the world continues to grapple with the illegal trade of protected wildlife, Europe has emerged as a growing destination for such illicit activities. In recent months, several countries in the region have made significant seizures of protected species.

In France, customs officials intercepted reptiles from Central Africa that were being smuggled into the country hidden in luggage. Similarly, in Germany, authorities intercepted tiger skin amulets in a parcel from Asia, highlighting the ongoing illegal trade in the body parts of endangered species. Even here in the United Kingdom, INTERPOL made a significant seizure of several ivory pieces after investigating a man selling wildlife on an e-commerce platform.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the American continent is demonstrating its commitment to protecting its natural heritage. In Costa Rica, an individual was arrested in possession of hundreds of protected wildlife species, while in Peru, an INTERPOL Red Notice was issued against a timber trafficker. In the United States, parrots, iguana eggs, coral, crocodile leather products, caviar, and shark meat were seized in several international airports, signalling the continued efforts of American authorities to combat illegal wildlife trade.

In a recent statement, INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock has emphasised the importance of these operations in addressing global security. According to Stock, the illegal trade of timber and wildlife is not just a conservation issue, but one that has far-reaching consequences for a variety of sectors.

Stock notes that the illegal trade in timber and wildlife often leads to the loss of life for law enforcement officers, the destruction of livelihoods, the spread of diseases, the weakening of governments, and even the collapse of entire economies. This is due to the vast financial gains that can be made from these illegal activities, which attract serious organised crime and terrorist militants. These groups often use corruption to facilitate their crimes, making it even more difficult to address the issue.

Stock's statement highlights the need for a comprehensive approach to addressing the illegal trade of timber and wildlife. It also underscores the importance of international cooperation and the need for governments, law enforcement agencies, and conservation organisations to work together to combat these illegal activities.

INTERPOL’s recent successes are certainly a step in the right direction. It shows the commitment of the international community to tackle this issue and the need for continued efforts to combat the illegal trade of wildlife and timber. As Stock states, it is not just a conservation issue but a matter of global security.


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