Operation Thunderstorm striking down on illegal wildlife trade


Illegal wildlife trade is rampant as proven by the seizure of a live pangolin. four live sharks. 700kg of abalone, ivory and rhino horn during South Africa’s contribution to the global Operation Thunderstorm in May 2018. In total 1 400 people were arrested during the month-long initiative that included investigations and searches in 92 countries.

Operation Thunderstorm is an initiative led by the Interpol Wildlife Crime Working Group. The aim behind this initiative. launched in 2017. is to target people and networks behind cross-border wildlife crime.
During the worldwide operation. Interpol recorded 1 974 seizures. which included 43 tons of wild meat. ranging from bear, elephant and crocodile to whale and zebra. Among the seizures were 1.3 tons of raw and processed elephant ivory, 27 000 reptiles including 869 alligators/ crocodiles, 9 590 turtles and 10 000 snakes.

ragged tooth shark

Almost 4 000 birds were confiscated, including pelicans, ostriches, parrots and owls. Officials seized 48 live primates and 14 big cats, including tiger, lion, leopard and jaguar. Several tons of wood and timber also made it onto the list.

Apart from the live pangolin confiscated in South Africa. eight tons of pangolin scales were seized worldwide. Almost four tons of scales were discovered by Vietnamese maritime authorities, arriving from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In South Africa, the South African Police Service, the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations (Hawks). SARS Customs, the Environmental Management Inspectorate (Green Scorpions) from the Department of Environmental Affairs, SANParks,  the provincial conservation authorities and the Department
of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) law enforcement officers participated in the operation.

Among the successes recorded was the confiscation of four endangered spotted ragged tooth sharks at Cape Town International Airport during an inspection of a container. The sharks were being exported to the Netherlands and indicates that the problem of live shark smuggling has increased. The sharks were seized as they were being exported without the required permits in terms of the Marine Living Resources Act and the Marine Threatened or Protected Species  Regulations. They had originated from Port Alfred. Two men were arrested in Daveyton by the Hawks. SAN Parks and the Environmental Management Inspectorate of the Department of Environmental Affairs for allegedly dealing in rhino horn formed part of the initiative.  Customs officials arrested two suspects travelling to South Africa at the Ramatlabama Border Post between South Africa and Botswana for the illegal possession of elephant ivory.

illegal wildlife trade abalone

Six men were arrested in Pretoria for the illegal possession of a pangolin. The operation. led by the Hawks. followed a suspect offering a pangolin for sale to a policeman. Three men were arrested in Walkerville on May 11 2018 for the unlawful possession of 700kg of abalone valued at R3.5 million.

Members of the Green Scorpions. customs officials and fisheries control officers of DAFF searched a ship in Durban harbour, while ad hoc tailgate and container searches were also carried out in the harbour.
The Interpol Wildlife Crime Working Group will meet in October to discuss future operations.


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