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SOUVENIR BUYERS BEWARE
WILDLIFE AT RISK

In North Africa and Egypt spur-thighed tortoises are turned into souvenirs ranging from homemade musical instruments to fire bellows. "Be aware that the purchase of these and other unusual items, as well as live reptiles and reptile leather products may contribute to the extinction of a species," the TRAFFIC report states.

Kenya, the safari centre of the world, has strict wildlife protection laws, and prohibits the collection of corals and the export of products made from elephants, rhinos and sea turtles. Trade in products made from certain reptiles is also prohibited. Trade is allowed for some species, but permits are required, especially for the export of any plants, insects and shells. Kenya is famous for wood carvings but some species are poorly managed, so TRAFFIC suggests travellers buy carvings made from exotic species such as mango and neem.

In Zimbabwe purchase of elephant ivory or leather products may be legal under new CITES regulations but some countries may still confiscate elephant souvenirs when tourists return home. With appropriate permits, hippo teeth may be exported, and there is a wide range of farmed ostrich and crocodile products. Warthog tusk and buffalo leather do not require permits.

In South Africa, elephant ivory is available, but illegal to import into most countries. TRAFFIC advises travellers to avoid most purchases of wild collected native plants. Apart from special circumstances, exports are likely to be curbed under South African law or international trade controls, and importation blocked by agricultural quarantine restrictions.

On Runion Island, a popular destination for Europeans, sea turtle shells, turtle soup and decorative turtle items are offered for sale. Even if the public information indicates that the turtles are captive bred, the export of these products is banned by international wildlife trade controls and the items may be confiscated in the country of import.

In India shahtoosh, woven into fine shawls, comes from the highly endangered Tibetan antelope. Shahtoosh, the underwool of the animal, is extracted after killing the animal in its winter coat. Extremely expensive, shahtoosh is considered to be a luxury item and a status symbol among the rich, a luxury leading to the extinction of the species. Up to three animals must die to provide enough wool for a single shawl. TRAFFIC advises tourists to avoid shahtoosh and other goods like cat skin, Musk Deer pods, ivory, fur, snake skin and turtle shell, all of which are protected in India and export banned.

Orchids grow with abandon in Thailand's tropical forests. Bringing home cut orchid flowers and live orchid plants grown in nurseries is not a problem, but bringing home wild orchid plants and flowers is prohibited as some orchid species are endangered or protected. TRAFFIC warns, beware of exotic wildlife foods, which may be made from threatened animals.

Malaysia offers butterflies under glass as souvenirs, but some butterflies are endangered and buying specimens in Malaysia or elsewhere could result in further declines. Many butterflies are protected and need permits to be imported into most countries.

Indonesia is inhabited by the world's greatest range of animal and plant life. Export of souvenirs made from these plants and animals may be subject to local and international restrictions, TRAFFIC warns. "Don't buy sea turtle products or curios such as stuffed Birds of Paradise. Remember that you may need special permits if you want to take home snake and lizard skin goods and coral decorations."

In the Philippines be especially careful to avoid the shells of giant clams which are banned from export under Philippine law. Giant clams also require special permits to take home.

There are a number of items legally available in Hong Kong that may not be imported into most countries. These include ivory chopsticks and signature seals and hippo teeth carvings, which also require special permits for export from Hong Kong. Many Chinese medicines are also available but those with endangered wildlife as ingredients are banned from international commercial trade. Buyers should also be aware that shahtoosh wool may be available here as well as in India and is illegal under any circumstances.

Visitors to China will find plenty of ivory products and traditional medicines such as farmed bear bile. But, taking any ivory or bear bile and certain traditional medicines out of China is forbidden by law, as is their import into many countries. Export of many wild foods is also prohibited.

The vast majority of Australia's wildlife is protected and many items cannot be exported without permission. This includes live native animals, insects and wildlife items such as Australian marine shells. Australian authorities take the legislation very seriously and impose strict penalties, including prison sentences, on violators. Souvenirs made from kangaroos, however, can be exported. It should be noted there are strict quarentine regulations and most animal and plant products cannot be taken into Australia.

Mexico prohibits export of its native birds including the parrots sold on many streets. Many of Mexico's native cacti and orchids for sale are unusual and rare, but Mexico prohibits the export of these plants collected in the wild so avoid them unless you are sure they are artificially propagated and have proper documents. If you would like a pair of cowboy boots, make sure they are not made from the leather of endangered species. Sea turtle products are widely available but illegal to bring home.

In the USA, TRAFFIC advises visitors not to be tempted by intricately carved scrimshaw products from walrus tusks, especially in Alaska, or by wall hangings displaying the feathers of wild birds. All native wild birds are protected in the USA; possessing even a feather is illegal. Products from American black bears, grizzly bears and polar bears require special permits in international commercial trade. Walruses, fur seals and other marine mammals are also protected and trade in their parts is only allowed for exempted Native American artisans.

The Caribbean is home to some of the richest terrestrial and marine environments on earth. Enjoy the sun but watch out for vendors selling tortoise shell jewellery, turtle oil and other items made from endangered sea turtles and other marine species. The semiprecious black corals, heavily exploited for jewellery, are protected by many nations. By collecting or purchasing these souvenirs, you are depleting marine ecosystems, risk having the products seized and you may have to pay hefty fines as well.


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