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Operation Thunder 2021 by INTERPOL & WCO

Operation Thunder 2021 by INTERPOL & WCO


  • GS 3 || Environment || Governance: International| | Environmental Organizations


  • Illegal wildlife trafficking (IWT) describes any environment-related crime that involves the illegal trade, smuggling, poaching, capture, or collection of endangered species, protected wildlife (including animals and plants that are subject to harvest quotas and regulated by permits), derivatives or products thereof.
  • Environmental crimes, which include illegal trade in wildlife, illicit trade in forests and forestry products, illegal dumping of waste including chemicals, smuggling of ozone-depleting substances, and illegal mining, estimated at up to $258 billion per year.
  • It is now the fourth largest crime after drug smuggling, counterfeiting, and human trafficking.

Why in the news?

  • A worldwide enforcement operation codenamed Operation Thunder against wildlife and timber crime coordinated by the World Customs Organization (WCO) and INTERPOL has disrupted crime networks and seen hundreds of arrests worldwide.
    • The Operation was a month-long (1-31 October) exercise involving Customs, Police, financial intelligence units, and wildlife and forestry enforcement agencies in 118 countries.

Operation Thunder

  • It was initiated by the INTERPOL Wildlife Crime Working Group and coordinated jointly by the WCO and INTERPOL, with the backing of the CITES Secretariat and the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC).
  • Operation Thunder began in 2017, since then it is conducted annually as a multilateral operation.
  • Since its inception “Thunder” operations have seen some 8,000 seizures of protected wildlife and forestry species and the arrest of more than 3,000 offenders.

Operation Thunder 2021

  • Operation Thunder 2021, was the fifth operation of its kind which was by far the largest with the involvement of 118 countries.
  • Thousands of cars, trucks, boats, and cargo transporters suspected of transporting protected wildlife and timber were searched, often with specialist sniffer dogs and X-ray scanners. Searches targeted illegally traded CITES-listed specimens.

What are Environmental crimes?

  • Environmental crime includes the illegal trade in wildlife, corporate crime in the forestry sector, the illegal exploitation and sale of gold and other minerals, illegal fisheries, the trafficking of hazardous waste, and carbon credit fraud. 
  • A report titled “The Rise of Environmental Crime” has been released by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and INTERPOL. As per the report, environmental crimes grew up by 26 % larger than previous estimates.
  • Over the years illegal wildlife trade has emerged as a form of organized transnational crime that has threatened the existence of many wild species across the globe.
  • 4th largest – Environmental crime is the world’s 4th largest criminal enterprise after drug smuggling, counterfeiting, and human trafficking.

Major environmental crimes across the world

  • Wild animal traffic
    • We can find several actors involved in this crime, but consumers are among the most important ones as this crime would disappear if supply and the high prices that people get to pay for them on the black market ceased to exist.
    • As a creepy side-note, the more endangered the species is, the higher the price is for it.
    • The most requested species are tropical birds (parrots, macaws, etc.), reptiles (serpents, crocodiles, etc.), arachnids (some types of tarantulas), monkeys (capuchins, chimpanzees, lemurs), and so forth.
    • But animal trafficking does not only intend to sell them as company animals; we also find such serious cases like the sale of elephants´ or rhinoceroses´ ivory on the black market, used to make decoration items and/or in traditional Chinese medicine.
  • Indiscriminate logging
    • Main cause of deforestation. The Amazon destruction the largest rainforest in the world speeded up in 2013 at a 29% rise in deforestation, according to the Brazilian government.
    • The uncontrolled logging to get wood for furniture or other goods or even for farmlands is the most serious cause of this environmental crime. Other lands like the Indonesian forests disappear because of excessive palm oil cultivations.
  • Electronic waste mismanagement
    • In the so-called developed countries there are up to 50 million tonnes of electronic waste every year (computers, TV sets, mobile phones, appliances, etc.). 
    • And up to 75% of all these are estimated to leave the official circuit and a good deal of them are to be illegally exported to Africa, China, or India.
    • It is the case of Ghana´s rubbish dump, a large electronic waste dump coming from the West.
    • Even though the export of this dangerous waste, including the electronic one, is banned in some places, like for example in the EU since 1992, a very good deal of this rubbish, which should be treated, ends up in these remote places polluting it all.
  • Finning
    • A hundred million sharks are captured every year by specialized ships and up to 70 million of them are captured to only have their fins cut off alive on the ship and then be thrown back into the sea.
    • This practice involves a slow and painful death, and it has been banned in the EU since 2003. Knowing that a kilogram of a shark fin is worth 600 euros in the Asian market, the finning trade is obvious.
  • Dumping in rivers and aquifers
  • This kind of environmental crime is most often caused by companies, factories, and Public Administrations.
    • Faecal and toxic waste coming from factories is usually dumped in a controlled way, but this is not always the case.
    • In these cases, waste is uncontrollably released into the environment, while at the same time polluting rivers, lakes aquifers, etc.
    • This is a very serious crime becausenot only does it cause the local wildlife to die or get ill but also, as a result of the water leaking into the soil, it finds its way to pollute the surrounding flora as well, affecting the food chain.
    • There are many ways to avoid this waste-dumping problem, such as using sewage collectors or sewage plants, among others.

Situation In India

  • Environment-related offenses includes violations of the Forest Act, the Forest Conservation Act, the Wild Life (Protection) Act, The Environmental (Protection) Act, the Air & the Water (Prevention & Control of Pollution) Act, the Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products Act, Noise Pollution Acts and the National Green Tribunal Act.
  • In India, the trade is expanding rapidly, driven by demand for rare species headed for the pet market as well as for species believed to have medicinal properties. A large part of this trade is meant for the international market and has no direct demand in India.
  • The main consumer markets are China and South East Asia, but wildlife—alive or as body parts— is also smuggled to the Gulf, Europe, and Northern America. Beyond India, the main transit countries are Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar.
  • Under the environment crime category, India, as a whole, reported 61,767 cases in 2020.This was an increase of 78.1 percent, in comparison to cases in 2019. This excluded 7,154 cases pending since 2019.
  • CAG-In 2020, the Comptroller and Auditor General tabled the report, the report was tabled in the assembly. According to the report, between 2014 and 2016, 40% of environmental crimes in India were from Rajasthan.
    • The CAG identified several irritants to the wildlife in the area. The Abheda Biological Park in Kota had a garbage dumping yard nearby. The other concerns were the firing range of the army, industrial areas, and slums.
  • NCRB-The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB)’s latest report has shown that India’s overall crime cases increased by 28 percent in 2020, in comparison to the previous year. But cases under the ‘environment-related offenses’ category increased by1 percent in the country in 2020.
    • This is one of the highest increases in cases in various crime categories, excluding the offenses related to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) regulations and norms in 2020.
    • Tamil Nadu reported the country’s highest number of environment-related crimes. In 2020, the state registered 42,756 cases, which was more than three times the number of cases registered in 2019.
    • Rajasthan came second among the states, with 9,543 cases registered in 2020; in 2019, this number was 10,782 cases. Uttar Pradesh (UP) came third with 2,981 cases in 2020. In 2019, the state registered 1,882 cases.
  • Four-fifths of the environment-related crimes were registered under the Cigarette and Other Tobacco Products Act. There were 49,710 cases of violations of this law or 80.5 per cent of total environment-related cases in 2020.
  • Violations of noise pollution control laws of both the Union and state governments formed the second-highest number of environment-related cases. These violations accounted for 11.8 per cent of the total cases.
  • UP reported the highest number of cases 1, 317 — in the country under this law.
  • Under the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, there were 672 cases, with UP There were 2,287 cases filed under the Forest Act and the Forest Conservation Act has the highest number (185) of cases, followed by Rajasthan with 151 cases. Under the Environmental (Protection) Act, 1986, the country reported 992 cases, with UP again having the highest number of cases at 841.


  • Leaders in the international community, particularly those from supply and demand countries, must collectively increase and deepen their levels of collaboration to tackle the menace of illegal wildlife trafficking. Governments will be better positioned to combat transnational crime if they have better and shared information, as well as if they improve the design and implementation of national and regional legislation and impose harsher penalties on unlawful traffickers and dealers.
  • According to WWF-India, there is a pressing need for information and action to bring the legal wildlife trade into line with sustainable levels and to end the illegal wildlife trading, which has threatened and even pushed numerous species to extinction.
    • Given the magnitude and pervasiveness of the threat, the Indian government must do far more to safeguard and preserve India’s wildlife. The ecology is already being ravaged by climate change, pollution, and the loss of forested regions.
  • Poaching wildlife as well will not only end up killing animals but also ruin biodiversity, leading to an unbalanced food chain and ultimately threatening all forms of life.
  • Different reports have recommended strong action, legislation, and sanctions at national and international levels to stop crime.