Customs and law enforcement organizations from 42 countries and regions gathered in Shenzhen this week for a debriefing on progress made under Operation Thunderball and Demeter V, major global operations aimed at combatting illegal smuggling of wildlife and solid waste.

The debriefing was hosted by China Customs and the World Customs Organization (WCO), with speakers at the event including China Customs Minister Ni Yuefeng, WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya, and CITES Secretary-General Ivonne Higuero.

“Collaboration is the only way we can address the global problems of smuggling endangered wildlife and solid waste,” noted Minister Ni. “We need mutual trust to form the basis of honest collaboration between source, transit, and destination countries to bear shared responsibility and a shared commitment to solving the problem.”

Operation Thunderball was carried out this year between June 4 – 30 to do just that. Launched globally by WCO and Interpol and including customs and law enforcement from 109 countries, Operation Thunderball has been the largest international joint effort to combat wildlife smuggling to date. China Customs has been a core member of the planning, execution, and coordination of the operation. The operation resulted in 1,828 cases involving 440 ivory tusks, 545 kg of ivory products, 2,550 cubic meters of timber, and 10,000 products from marine wildlife. China was responsible for 73 of these cases totaling 1.64 tons and involving ivory, rhino horn, pangolin, and seahorses. 

Likewise, China played a key role in the initiation and coordination of Demeter V to tackle trafficking in solid waste. Carried out during the month of September, the operation uncovered 232 cases of solid waste trafficking involving 4,584.7 tons of waste, of which 85 cases comprising 1,500 tons involved China.

In 2019 China Customs has also made sweeping enforcements on endangered wildlife and solid waste smuggling through its own domestic efforts. Through October China investigated 444 cases involving 1,237.49 tons of endangered wildlife and timber products including 9.16 tons of ivory. Nearly 700,000 tons of solid waste from 317 cases were also seized this year.

China Customs has also significantly increased its public education campaigns, partnering with NGOs to disseminate posters and public service announcements at transit hubs and borders around the country to raise awareness on the illegality of smuggling wildlife.

In an effort to help China’s government further enforce its ivory ban and reduce demand for ivory, WildAid launched a new Public Service Announcement (PSA) and billboard campaign with China Customs and popular actor Huang Xuan, publicizing the illegality of buying ivory and bringing it back into China. We placed over 5,000 billboards at 147 airports and border crossings in 42 cities, broadcasted the PSA on all Chinese airlines, and received extensive online state media promotion, reaching hundreds of millions of travelers.

China Customs Anti-Smuggling Bureau has received a slate of international awards for their achievements in recent months including the 2019 UNEP Environment Enforcement Award, and the CITES Clark R. Bavin Wildlife Law Enforcement Award for the fourth time this decade.


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About WildAid

WildAid is a non-profit organization with a mission to protect wildlife from illegal trade and other imminent threats. While most wildlife conservation groups focus on protecting animals from poaching, WildAid primarily works to reduce global consumption of wildlife products such as elephant ivory, rhino horn and shark fin soup. With an unrivaled portfolio of celebrity ambassadors and a global network of media partners, WildAid leverages more than $308 million in annual pro-bono media support with a simple message: When the Buying Stops, the Killing Can Too. 

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