Canada participates in largest-ever international enforcement operation to crack down on wildlife crime 

News release

July 10, 2019 – Gatineau, Quebec

Wildlife crime is a global issue that requires a global solution and concerted effort to protect and conserve the world’s species. The Government of Canada is taking action to protect our wildlife from illegal international trade. Every day, Environment and Climate Change Canada’s enforcement officers work diligently in collaboration with national and international partners to enforce the laws that protect plant and animal species and their habitat, and bring offenders to justice.

In June, Environment and Climate Change Canada’s enforcement officers participated in INTERPOL’s Operation Thunderball, an international enforcement effort in collaboration with the World Customs Organization, aimed at cracking down on wildlife crime including smuggling, poaching and trafficking. The month-long operation involved 109 countries and resulted in the seizures of tens of thousands of protected plants and animals worldwide, as well as products derived from them. This is the largest number of countries ever to coordinate efforts simultaneously on an environmental crime issue.

During the operation in Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada’s enforcement officers responded to over 100 complaints and tips received from the public concerning habitat and wildlife destruction. Enforcement officers also conducted dozens of inspections, enforcement activities and hunter checks, and led a series of border-crossing blitzes to look for evidence of illegal exports of Canadian species as well as illegal imports of exotic species.

Over the course of the operation, officers intercepted items such as pangolin carcasses, saiga antelope, sturgeon caviar, diet pills containing hoodia (an endangered African plant species), a wallet made with crocodile skin, and black bear bacula, testes and paws, among other items. In six incidents, compliance orders were issued to protect species at risk in Canada.

Worldwide, the initial results of Operation Thunderball have led to the identification of almost 600 suspects, triggering arrests. Further arrests and prosecutions are foreseen as ongoing global investigations progress.

Global seizures reported to date include:

  • 23 live primates;
  • 30 big cats and large quantities of animal parts;
  • 440 elephant ivory pieces and five rhino horns;
  • More than 4,300 birds;
  • Just under 1,500 reptiles and nearly 10,000 turtles and tortoises;
  • Almost 7,700 wildlife parts from all species, including more than 30 kg of game meat;
  • 2,550 cubic metres of timber (equivalent to 74 truckloads);
  • More than 2,600 plants;
  • Almost 10,000 marine wildlife items.


“The Government of Canada is proud to join forces with our partners on the world stage in the global fight against wildlife crime. Our nature is under threat and human activity is a driving factor. It’s through initiatives like Operation Thunderball and close collaboration with organizations like INTERPOL and the World Customs Organization that we will collectively and effectively ensure the protection and conservation of our world’s wildlife.”

– Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change

“Wildlife crime not only strips our environment of its resources, it also has an impact through the associated violence, money laundering and fraud. 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.”

– Jürgen Stock, INTERPOL Secretary General

“As clearly illustrated by the results of Operation Thunderball, close cooperation at international and national levels to combat wildlife crime must never be underestimated. Such initiatives will be replicated to raise awareness within the global law enforcement community on the gravity of global wildlife crime and to better coordinate cross-agency efforts, including the engagement of civil society groups to detect and deter wildlife criminal networks.

– Kunio Mikuriya, World Customs Organization Secretary General

Quick facts

  • Currently, global wildlife crime—including poaching, smuggling, and trafficking of animals and plants—is estimated by the United Nations Environment Programme and INTERPOL to be worth over US$155 billion per year, making it the world’s fourth most lucrative form of crime.

  • The illegal wildlife trade is typically run by criminal networks with wide, international reach, whose activities threaten protected wildlife species, affect vulnerable communities, and can undermine national economies.

  • Coordinated jointly by INTERPOL’s Environment Security Programme and the WCO Environment Programme, Operation Thunderball is the third in the “Thunder” series, following Thunderbird in 2017 and Thunderstorm in 2018.

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada enforces federal wildlife legislation that protects plant and animal species, particularly in interprovincial and international trade. Provinces and territories manage conservation and regulate the harvest of wildlife in their jurisdictions.

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Sabrina Kim
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Media Relations
Environment and Climate Change Canada
819-938-3338 or 1-844-836-7799 (toll-free)

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