Held over a month, the operation involved law enforcement agencies in 103 countries

Prized logs: A file photo of red sandwalwood seized in India.  

Held over a month, the operation involved law enforcement agencies in 103 countries

The India Customs intercepted an 18-tonne shipment of red sandalwood destined for the United Arab Emirates, during a month-long “Operation Thunder 2020”, coordinated by the Interpol and the World Customs Organisation, which involved law enforcement agencies in 103 countries.

The operation against environmental crime was held from September 14 to October 11. It resulted in large seizures of protected wildlife and forestry specimens and products, triggering arrests and investigations worldwide, said the Interpol. “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,” it said.

The participating countries focused mainly on the species protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Mexican law enforcement rescued an adult female white tiger, a jaguar and a four-month old lion cub in Sinaloa. “In Cameroon, customs officers seized 187 raw elephant tusks from a truck crossing the border from Gabon. In total, 56,200 kg of marine products were seized during Operation Thunder 2020,” said the Interpol, adding that the Peruvian police seized a shipment of 11 tonnes of mutilated sharks.

Besides, 1,160 birds and 15,878 kg of plants were seized during the operation. The police in Zimbabwe thwarted the transfer of 32 live chimpanzees from Congo. The seized contraband included more than 1.3 tonnes of ivory, over 1 tonne of pangolin scales, 87 truckloads of timber, 1,400 turtles and tortoises, 6,000 turtle or tortoise eggs 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 Interpol Secretary General, Jürgen Stock, in a statement.

The Interpol, which is celebrating 10 years of tackling organised environmental crime, said the Covid-19 pandemic posed several challenges to the operations. “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,” it said.

“Operation Thunder 2020” is the fourth in a series of “Thunder” operations carried out annually since 2017.