Police in 22 countries, including Australia, have rescued thousands of live reptiles including turtles and crocodiles that traffickers intended to kill for use in fashion accessories such as wallets and handbags, Europol says.
Europe's police agency said the arrests of six people in Italy and six in Spain for illegal trafficking in live animals capped a month-long global sting dubbed Operation Blizzard that targeted smugglers, commercial cargo and pet shops.
"Wildlife trafficking has increased significantly in recent years to the point where we have now thousands of reptiles worth millions of euros (dollars) being seized every year," said Pedro Felicio, head of economic and property crime at Europol, which helped co-ordinate the operation.
"Despite the various efforts made, the threat of environmental crime remains high," he said in a statement.
It said 2703 turtles and tortoises, 1059 snakes, 512 lizards and geckos, and 20 crocodiles and alligators were seized during an operation spanning Europe, the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Israel and South Africa.
Handbags, wallets, watch straps, medicines and other products derived from the animals were also seized.
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Image: Bigstock actual turtle not shown