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A Talk on the Wild Side.

Service Joins Operation Thunderstorm, a Worldwide Anti-wildlife Trafficking Effort

   2 people check luggage on a conveyor belt  in an airportService wildlife inspectors examine passenger baggage with CBP officers at Los Angeles International Airport.

Snakes, songbirds and monkeys are just a few live species law enforcement officers from around the globe intercepted during Operation Thunderstorm.

   3 photos: From left: A dog and handler inspect a small plane on the tarmac; snails with evidence tags; scorpions in a dishFrom left: A  Service  K-9 team inspects a plane for injurious species in Alaska, giant Africa land snails, and dictator scorpions interdicted at the Port of New York.

Officers also found shells, skins and other parts of protected species, and injurious species such as the giant African land snails, which were seized in New York. Keeping the snails out of the United States prevents dangers to our ecosystem, our country’s agriculture, and communicable diseases that can affect humans.

Hawksbill sea turtle shells

   Seized hawksbill sea turtle shells cover the floor in rowsCritically endangered hawksbill sea turtle shells were  seized.  Many of the shells had bullet holes.

Another U.S. success was the seizure of hawksbill sea turtle shells. These sea turtles are critically endangered and have legal protections against commercial trade. Wildlife inspectors intercepted nearly 1,800 sea turtle scutes falsely manifested as “plastic recycle.”

Investigators identified transnational criminals and launched broader investigations in collaboration with foreign partners. 

The Service’s Office of Law Enforcement’s role in Operation Thunderstorm was enhanced by its Special Agent Attachés. These Attachés are experienced criminal investigators with a specialty in wildlife and natural resource investigations stationed at seven U.S. embassies across Africa, Asia and South and Central America.


   hand holds hair curlers finches were smuggled in Live finches were smuggled into JFK to be used as songbirds.  They were discovered passenger baggage and hidden inside hair curlers.

Animals and plants are valuable commodities.  In addition to its role in stopping illegal trade in protected animals and plants, the Service legal trade in wildlife that is worth more than $4 billion annually to the U.S. economy.  Global enforcement operations are important because strong, effective and collaborative wildlife law enforcement is a major deterrent to wildlife crimes and smuggling.

   white bottle with red top  and orange seal“Traditional medicines” often contain products from endangered species.  The “medicine” above contains tiger bone.

Illegal trade decimates wildlife and plants, hurts the legal trade, robs local communities in developing countries from creating livelihoods based on their local resources, promotes transnational organized crime, and has been tied to drug, human and weapons trafficking.

Operation Thunderstorm involved numerous partners: law enforcement officers from 92 countries, International Consortium to Combat Wildlife Crime, INTERPOL Wildlife Crime Working Group, World Customs Organization, and the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora Secretariat.  

This effort followed on the success of last year’s Operation Thunderbird. Both "Thunder" operations highlight how the international community is coming together to stop wildlife smuggling on every continent, dismantling transnational organized criminal syndicates, and increasing international collaboration and information-sharing.

But long after this year’s thunder quiets, the Service will continue its efforts to combat illegal trade in plants and wildlife. 

Read more about the  FWS’s work on Operation Thunderstorm

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