Police have rescued thousands of live snakes, lizards and geckos and stopped some 20 crocodiles and alligators from becoming high-end fashion products, Europol said Monday, after a coordinated global police operation.
Called "Operation Blizzard", police from across the world including the European Union, Australia, South Africa and the United States targeted the illegal reptile trade between mid-April to May 22.
"The operation, coordinated by Europol and Interpol involved agencies from 22 countries and led to seizures ranging from live animals to high-end fashion products," Europol said in a statement.
Six suspects were arrested in Italy and six were arrested in Spain, Europol said.
Globally police seized 4,419 live animals including 2,703 turtles and tortoises, 1059 snakes, 512 lizards and geckos and 20 crocodiles and alligators.
Authorities also confiscated 152 handbags, wallets, watchstraps, medicines and taxidermies.
Operation Blizzard targeted aircraft passengers, commercial cargo, pet shops and people legally allowed to keep reptiles, Europol said.
"Wildlife trafficking has increased significantly in recent years to the point where we now have thousands of reptiles, worth millions of euros being seized every year," said Pedro Felicio, Europol's head of Economic and Property Crime.
"Despite the various efforts made, the threat of environmental crime remains high," Felicio said.