Thousands of illegal wildlife products seized by Border Force

Thousands of products containing endangered plant and animal species have been seized by Border Force

Thousands of products containing endangered plant and animal species have been seized by Border Force as part of an intensive international operation to target the criminal networks behind wildlife crime.

During October - as part of the month long Operation Thunder - Border Force officers made 145 seizures containing thousands of wildlife products which are banned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora (CITES).

Seizures included clothes and accessories made from snakeskin and turtle shell, ivory products, as well as consumer health products containing cactus and orchid, crocodile blood and caviar.

The team also found 53 live birds across three different seizures. Border Force look to rehome any live animals found where possible.

Minister for Legal Migration and Delivery Tom Pursglove MP said: 

"The illegal wildlife trade is driven by criminal gangs and threatens species with extinction, fuels corruption, and deprives the world’s poorest communities of sustainable livelihoods.

"Border Force plays a leading global role in eradicating this damaging illegal trade and our recent successes under Operation Thunder are proof of this."

Dr Mark Jones, Head of Policy for Born Free, said:

"Wildlife trafficking is serious, organised, transnational, and increasing. It is also closely tied to other forms of serious crime, such as corruption, fraud and money laundering. All too often, criminal gangs view wildlife trafficking as a low-risk high-return activity.

"The work of Border Force in interrupting the trafficking of wildlife products across the UK’s borders is critical to the UK’s efforts to tackle this scourge.

"With so much of the world’s wildlife in crisis, it’s vital that our enforcement agencies are properly resourced to enable this essential and highly specialised work to continue."

Wildlife crime is estimated to be worth up to £17 billion globally per year, and is the fourth largest international crime according to Interpol, behind only arms, drugs and human trafficking.

Operation Thunder is a global effort to target the illegal wildlife trade and is co-led by Interpol and the World Customs Organisation. This year saw over 133 countries participating alongside the UK, the highest global participation since the campaign launched in 2017.

Internationally, there were 2,114 seizures and some 500 arrests. Among the seizures were more than 300kg of ivory, thousands of turtle eggs, 30 tonnes of plants, dozens of big cat body parts and rhino horns, as well as primates, birds and marine species.

The UK is a global leader in supporting efforts to halt the decline in nature, protect wildlife and restore the natural world. Government work will help to deliver on the ambitious new global deal for nature agreed at the UN Nature Summit COP15 in December 2023, which will protect 30% of our land and ocean by 2030.

Through the government’s Illegal Wildlife Trade Challenge Fund, we have committed over £51 million to 157 projects to directly combat the illegal wildlife trade.

Operation Thunder 2023 ran from 2 to 27 October, leading to the seizures in the UK of:

  • 53 live CITES listed birds
  • 5.5kgs of ivory
  • 434 live plants
  • over 1,000 health supplements containing illegal plant and animal products
  • 1 ceremonial headdress made with big cat fur
  • vulture and falcon eggs and a lesser flamingo feather bracelet
  • 5 seizures of  controlled wood products
  • 26 reptile skin products including crocodile and python

Non-CITES UK seizures included:

  • 285kgs of cannabis from Thailand
  • 329,000 cigarettes
  • 197kgs of tobacco
  • 102kgs of prohibited products of animal origin

Border Force is responsible for frontline detection and seizure of items covered by the CITES convention, which tackles the illegal trade in endangered animals and plants. The Heathrow-based Border Force CITES team are specialist officers who are recognised as world leaders in their field.

Anyone with information about activity they suspect may be linked to smuggling and trafficking of any kind can report it online at Report smuggling - GOV.UK (

Border Force
Tom Pursglove MP