Buying souvenirs is a routine activity for many people whilst on their holidays. Tourist shopping often generates important income for local communities and traders, however, tourists may unwittingly be buying products which come from endangered animals or which have caused animals to suffer.
What you should know
Buying items which have come from inhumanely treated or endangered animals encourages demand. Many innocent looking items such as trinkets, jewelry and clothing may contain such products.
Animal products offered to tourists vary largely from country to country. Here are some of the more common animal products that tourists may be offered:
Ivory and other mammal or reptile teeth and bones
Ivory from elephant is typically sold in the form of carved figurines, chopsticks or bangles.
The appetite for ivory products fuels poaching and is responsible for pushing elephants towards extinction.
Teeth from endangered tigers, bears and crocodiles may also be sold as jewellery or as charms. Although this may seem like only a very small item, the animal may have been killed purely for it. There have been many instances of tiger poaching where just the animal’s claws and teeth are removed.
Quills, feathers and bird beaks
Quills, feathers or birds beak may be used for decorative or novelty items.
Many bird species are close to extinction, such as endangered hornbills. Buying products made from their parts supports the illegal wildlife trade, which is responsible for the decline of so many bird species.
Reptile skins may be used for footwear, hats, belts, handbags, wallets, and drums.
Many snakes are wild caught and inhumanely slaughtered for their skins.
As most crocodile species are now endangered, farms now breed them for their meat and skins. The farms often keep large numbers of crocodiles in concrete pools in unnatural, overcrowded conditions. The killing methods are inhumane, usually stabbing the neck to sever the spinal cord, immobilizing the animal, but leaving it fully conscious. The crocodiles are skinned alive.
Animal furs are typically found used in clothing items, but they may also be used for trinkets, ‘good-luck’ charms or in traditional materials.
Furs deriving from wild animals could come from endangered wild cats and deers which are usually caught in traps.
Many of the furs used in trims and coats in fashion outlets will be sourced from China where animals are raised in intensive farms in appalling conditions and skinned while they are still conscious. Animals used by the Chinese fur trade include domestic cat and dogs.
Turtle and Tortoise Shells
Turtle and tortoise shells are made into items such combs, hair brushes, necklaces, cigarette cases, hair clips, spectacle frames and jewellery or as whole shells as decorative items.
When the animals are caught, their flippers are pierced and sewed together with wire threads to prevent them escaping. During slaughter, their body is simply scooped from the shell with a knife, often without any attempt to kill the animal first.
The endangered Tibetan antelope, the Chiru, is sought after for luxury shahtoosh shawls. The shawls are made from the very fine under fleece wool of the antelope.
An estimated 20,000 Chiru are killed for their fleece every year. Poachers gathered herds of Chiru and indiscriminately kill adult males, mothers with young, and even pregnant females. The fleece is smuggled from Tibet into the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, where the wool is spun and woven into shawls.
Wildlife in Medicines
When travelling, you might come across traditional medicines offered as an alternative medicine. Some traditional medicines may use wildlife, including endangered species. Some wildlife parts are also used as aphrodisiacs.
The use of parts and products from wild animals in traditional Chinese medicine includes bear gallbladder and bile, tiger and leopard bones, musk glands from musk deer, Saiga antelope horns, rhinoceros horns, and penis bones (bacula) from fur seals. Other wild animal species used to make traditional medicines include pangolins, crocodiles, turtles, snakes, lizards, and primates such as macaques and slow lorises.
Even in tablet or capsule forms, these products may be illegal for sale in some countires and it could be illegal to take them across international borders.
Corals and Seashells
Corals and seashells are often used in trinkets, novelty souvenirs and decorations.
Coral reefs are vulnerable to the impacts of tourism. It is estimated that 20 percent of the world’s coral reefs have already been lost.
Buying products made from coral contributes to the loss of one of the ocean’s most important ecosystems. Over-harvesting of seashells has pushed some species, such as the Queen Conch, to the brink of extinction.
What you can do
- Purchase locally made arts and crafts that are not made from animals or plants.
- Do not accept the sellers reassurances that the item does not contain illegal wildlife products; if you are not sure, then don’t buy the item as you could end up with a fine or even imprisonment.