for responsible souvenir shopping
These tips will make sure you not only get through customs with your
shopping intact, but also avoid harming wildlife and other animals
with your purchases
Uncomfortable in someone else’s skin: Without being aware of
it, as travellers we may be buying products which come from
endangered animals or which have caused an animal to suffer.
Examples of such items include handbags, belts, hats and shoes made
from reptile skin. While snakes are often caught wild, crocodiles –
because of their endangered status – are now usually bred on large
farms in unnatural, overcrowded conditions, and can be skinned
Also avoid buying jewellery, combs, hairclips and other items made
of turtle and tortoise shells. When the animals are caught, their
flippers are sometimes pierced and sewn together with wired thread
to stop them escaping, and at slaughter their body can be simply
scooped from the shell with a knife while the animal is still alive.
End the ivory trade: Statues, necklaces, chess pieces,
chopsticks and ornamental pieces made from tusks or horns from
elephants and rhinos should definitely be avoided. Illegal trade in
ivory and rhino horn is massive, with a soaring demand –
particularly in Asia – fuelling poaching and pushing these species
Ivory and rhino horn is seen as a status symbol in countries like
China and Vietnam, and powdered rhino horn is used in traditional
medicine to treat a range of ailments. The growth of a wealthy
middle class in these countries has driven up the demand for these
products, and is seen as the most significant contribution to the
last few years’ rise in poaching. Between 25,000 and 40,000
elephants are estimated to be illegally killed across Africa in
2013, and nearly 800 rhinos have been killed since the beginning of
the year in South Africa alone, home to 80% of the continent’s
Souvenirs from the sea: Corals and seashells are often used
in trinkets, jewellery and decorations. However, coral reefs are
vulnerable to the impacts of tourism. Corals are living animals and
an intrinsic part of a vibrant reef, providing food and foundation
for homes and hang-outs of other animals.
There is no sustainable way to harvest corals without damaging
critical marine ecosystems, and today both shallow-water corals and
the deeper water coral species are threatened by over-harvesting.
Most corals grow slowly, which means that snatching them up for
souvenirs can do long-term damage to the whole reef community.
It is estimated that more than 20% of the world’s coral reefs have
already been destroyed and are unlikely to recover. Buying products
made from coral contributes to the loss of one of the ocean’s most
Unsavoury potions: The popular Witches Markets in the Andes
region of South America draw hordes of tourists, and they are
undeniably fascinating. Items on sale include medicinal plants and
potions, and amulets and talismans to bring luck, beauty and
But beware that many products on sale in these places contain animal
products. Arguably the most famous (and to many tourists somewhat
shocking) item at these markets is the dried llama foetuses,
believed to bring good luck and protection when buried under
someone’s house. If you are tempted to buy them, think twice – they
will not be legal to take back to most countries.
Don’t get caught out: Trade in wild animals and their body
parts is regulated by CITES (Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), an international
agreement designed to protect species which are threatened by
international trade. Although you may find such items on sale –
legally – in the country of origin, they can be illegal to bring
home and if you get caught you may face a hefty fine.
It’s not only animals and their body parts that may be illegal to
take home. An American tourist was detained in Turkey earlier this
year for attempting to take rocks collected on the beach through
customs – something most of us would assume is perfectly innocent.
The Turkish authorities, however, claimed the stones were ‘ancient
artefacts’, and the tourist was banned from leaving the country for
a month before he was released.
These are sage words from Jenny Berg of Care for the Wild
International. You might want to look over the rest of your travel
plans too. Take a look at the RIGHT-tourism (Responsible, Informed,
Guilt-free and Humane Tourism) website for information about issues
to be aware of to make your trip both enjoyable and responsible.