The first such operation with the global police agency took place in 2017.
Qatar Customs helped seize illegally smuggled wildlife animals and animal skin in the annual Operation Thunder 2021, a coordinated global mission by the World Customs Organization [WCO] and Interpol.
The operation was conducted throughout October and saw the arrests of hundreds involved in smuggling animals listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora [CITES].
All trade activity that violates CITES is illegal.
According to Interpol, customs, police, financial intelligence units and wildlife and forestry enforcement agencies in 118 countries took part in the operation. This year also witnessed the largest number of participating countries since it was kicked off in 2017.
29 live #CITES-listed animals were rescued from trafficking during @WCO_OMD – INTERPOL operation Thunder2021, including these live big cats intercepted in the Middle East and South America @ICCWC_WFC https://t.co/UxWQYUEWOu pic.twitter.com/Ygw341MUsA
— INTERPOL (@INTERPOL_HQ) November 30, 2021
In Qatar, customs found several CITES-listed birds including Houbara Bustards that were squeezed in a make-shift shipping box. Reports stated that Qatari authorities also found an Arabian wolf and big cats.
A leopard skin was also seized in Qatar, as Sky News reported on Tuesday.
“Organised crime networks are generating billions in illicit profits every year, at significant cost to our environment as well as the associated impacts of fraud, corruption and violence,” said INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock.
Over 1,000 seizures were conducted and some 300 suspects have been identified so far in this year’s operation, with results still being reported.
So far, the operation has discovered 75 big cat parts, 29 live big cats, 531 turtles and tortoises, 171 birds, 336 reptiles, 4,843 kg of marine products, 1.4 million plant-derived items among others.
Sniffer dogs and X-ray scanners were used to inspect thousands of cars, trucks, boats and cargo transporters, where authorities were able to thwart smuggling attempts of wild animals.
“With criminals trafficking endangered species along the same routes they use to smuggle other illicit goods, Customs is strategically placed at borders to intercept illegally traded CITES-listed products,” said WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya.
The WCO said that searches targeted “live big cats, primates, reptiles, birds and derivative products such as clothing, beauty products, food items, traditional medicines and handicrafts”.
Interpol red notice fugitives were identified ahead of the operations as well as companies involved in facilitating such crimes.
“The volume of seizures made during Operation Thunder 2021 proves how serious the transnational organised crime threat is for wild species and ecosystems across range, transit and destination countries,” said CITES Secretary General Ivonne Higuero.
Since 2017, Operation Thunder has seen more than 8,000 seizures of protected wildlife and forestry species and arrested over 3,000 criminals linked to the animal smuggling cases.