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Open Spaces

A Talk on the Wild Side.

Service, Partner Nations to Wildlife Traffickers: There’s Nowhere to Hide

K9 InspectionA Service Wildlife Inspector and K-9 participate in Operation Thunderbird at the Honolulu international mail facility.

Operation Thunderbird, a global anti-wildlife trafficking initiative, recently turned a bright spotlight on the alarming depth and breadth of the planet’s wildlife poaching problem. In just three weeks, this coordinated international law enforcement effort resulted in the identification of nearly 900 suspects and 1,300 seizures of illicit wildlife products. Many of these were made by our own U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement officers, demonstrating the significant role our nation plays in both the problem of wildlife trafficking and in implementing the solutions. 

  list of seizures in Operation Thunderbird

More than 60 countries participated including Canada, China, India, Mexico, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and the European Union (EU). The operation highlighted what can be achieved when countries work together to end the illegal wildlife trade.  

  seizures in Operation Thunderbird Photos of enforcement efforts and seizures from Italy, South Sudan, Spain, Ecuador, and Canada

The Service, for its part, not only increased inspection activities and timely reporting of seizure data but also engaged our special agent attachés stationed at U.S. embassies in Beijing, China; Gaborone, Botswana; Lima, Peru; Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; and Bangkok, Thailand. These agents are a relatively new but growing addition to the Service’s arsenal in the fight against poaching and the illegal wildlife trade. They provide several unique international collaborative functions including information-sharing; and training and relationship-building in nations that also can play a significant role in the fight, either as wildlife range states or trafficking consumer states.

  seizures in Operation Thunderbird

In the United States, special agents and wildlife inspectors increased pro-active inspection efforts at multiple U.S. ports, such as Honolulu, Hawaii; New York, New York; Los Angeles, California; Miami, Florida; Newark, New Jersey; New Orleans, Louisiana; Portland, Oregon; and the San Ysidro Port of Entry (at the California-Mexico border).

Service agents worked in concert with Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and other government partners to target shipments and investigate those who attempted to smuggle wildlife. They also strengthened cooperation and information-sharing with partner nations. An example of the many successes of the operation, U.S. authorities in California intercepted an ocean container full of illegal shark fins and began transnational investigations with several other countries.

Operation Thunderbird was conceived during the recent 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Efforts such as Operation Thunderbird represent a positive example of international collaboration, with a message to would-be global wildlife traffickers: The world is working together to combat wildlife crime. There is nowhere to hide.

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