PARIS, FRANCE.- Nearly 100 countries took part in a globe-spanning crackdown on the illegal wildlife trade, seizing tons of meat, ivory, pangolin scales and timber in a monthlong bust that exposed the international reach of traffickers, Interpol said Wednesday.
Officials also confiscated thousands of live animals, including turtles in Malaysia and parrots in Mexico. Canada intercepted 18 tons of eel meat arriving from Asia.
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Those arrested included two flight attendants in Los Angeles and a man in Israel whose house was raided after he posted a hunting photograph on social media.
Operation Thunderstorm, which followed similar stings in past years, yielded seizures worth millions of dollars during May, according to Interpol.
“The results are spectacular,” said Sheldon Jordan, Canada’s director general of wildlife enforcement. Acknowledging the magnitude of the problem, Jordan said global wildlife crime is worth about $150 billion annually and is fourth in value after the illegal drug trade, counterfeiting and human trafficking.
Criminal syndicates that smuggle flora and fauna often take advantage of porous borders and corrupt officials, transporting illicit cargo at an industrial scale. The Thunderstorm swoop included the confiscation of 8 tons of pangolin scales, half of which was found by Vietnamese authorities on a ship from Africa.
Africa’s four species of pangolins are under increasing pressure from poachers because of the decimation of the four species in Asia, where pangolin scales are used in traditional medicine.
A total of 43 tons of contraband meat — including bear, elephant, crocodile, whale and zebra — 1.3 tons of elephant ivory, 27,000 reptiles, and about 4,000 birds.