INTERPOL Rescued Thousands of Animals in a Global Sting Operation

Operation Thunderball was a joint enforcement operation against wildlife and timber crime that spanned 109 countries.


(Paula Cobleigh /

Protecting our wildlife is a global wide endeavor. So, it comes as no surprise that environmental crimes against protected species is an international enterprise too. The illegal wildlife trade is a multibillion-dollar criminal operation according to National Geographic. But a joint effort between INTERPOL and the World Customs Organization (WCO) joined together to stop it in its tracks.

From June 4-30, 2019, this intelligence led  operation, dubbed Operation Thunderball, involved 109 countries and resulted in almost 2,000 seizures of protected wildlife that ranged from large cats and primates to live turtles, birds, 74 truckloads of protected timber, and items made from protected animals.

“As clearly illustrated by the results of Operation Thunderball, close cooperation at international and national levels to combat wildlife crime must never be under-estimated,” said WCO secretary general Kunio Mikuriya in an INTERPOL press release.

INTERPOL and the WCO have a long history of working together in the field. This was the third joint operations that included Operation Thunderbird in 2017 and Operation Thunderstorm in 2018. The latest operation which was coordinated in INTERPOL's global complex in Singapore. Thunderball identified almost 600 suspects that triggered arrests worldwide and more are expected.

The operation was looking to crack down on trafficking routes in the hopes of preventing wildlife crime from occurring.

The illegal wildlife trade targets the survival of many species including African elephants that are killed for their ivory, pangolins that are used in traditional Chinese medicine, plus many species of birds and reptiles that are part of the exotic pet trade.

“Operations like Thunderball are concrete actions targeting the transnational crime networks profiting from these illicit activities. We will continue our efforts with our partners to ensure that there are consequences for criminals who steal from our environment,” said INTERPOL secretary general Jürgen Stock in the press release. "Wildlife crime not only strips our environment of its resources, it also has an impact through the associated violence, money laundering and fraud.”