Operation Dragon

A multi-million-dollar industry

The illegal trade in freshwater turtles and tortoises, including species on the brink of survival, to supply the pet trade, is a multi-million-dollar industry. We launched Operation Dragon in 2016 to shine a spotlight on this trafficking in South and Southeast Asia and the corruption that enables it.

Operation Dragon: Revealing new evidence on the scale of corruption and trafficking in the turtle and tortoise trade.

The report ‘Operation Dragon: Revealing new evidence on the scale of corruption and trafficking in the turtle and tortoise trade’ describes in detail the results of the Operation and how the intelligence and evidence gathered by the Wildlife Justice Commission investigators provided an in-depth understanding of individual roles and network dynamics, enabling law enforcement agencies to target the most prolific criminals in a time-critical manner.

A timeline of

Operation Dragon

Here you can see how Operation Dragon evolved over time during 2016-2018 and the results that it yielded. Click on the events through the timeline to read on the developments and watch the undercover videos obtained during the investigation, developed in close collaboration with Indian and Malaysian law enforcement agencies and with INTERPOL.

The 2-year investigation (2016-2018) yielded significant results on the ground, as several wildlife trafficking networks were disrupted, dozens of arrests were made, and several traffickers have already been convicted, while others are awaiting trial.

More than 6,000 freshwater turtles and tortoises, ranging from vulnerable to critically endangered, were seized. The Wildlife Justice Commission reported all the intelligence gathered and analysed during the operation to the authorities. Investigations tackling the criminal networks responsible for this illegal trade continue.

Undercover video of Wildlife Justice Commission investigators meeting with wildlife traffickers, showing photos of live endangered turtles in Bangladesh being packaged and ready to be sent and sold.

The Wildlife Justice Commission provided intelligence to INTERPOL on the location of a safe house in Dhaka (Bangladesh), where hundreds of endangered reptiles where being stored prior to transit. Local authorities arrested five individuals and seized 600 animals.

Undercover video of Wildlife Justice Commission investigators posing as buyers meeting with a wildlife trafficker identified as Ali at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur. Upon Wildlife Justice Commission investigator alerting police, trafficker is arrested and turtles seized alive at scene. Ali was later sentenced to 24 months in prison.

Operation Dragon also exposed the consistent corruption of officials at strategic transport hubs (‘settings’) across the region. This facilitates the guaranteed access to safely smuggled wildlife without the risk of detection. Collating all information obtained during the investigation, the Wildlife Justice Commission intelligence team mapped where corruption was reported across the region.