Are you thinking about traveling abroad? We just have one favor to ask before you get to where you’re going, and that’s to read some guides on overseas shopping. Wildlife trafficking comes in many forms, and a lot of it is targeted at unsuspecting tourists. Just because you see something on sale in a store or at a market, doesn’t mean it’s legal to bring back to the United States. Not only could you get fined and have your souvenir confiscated, but you could also unknowingly support the illegal wildlife trade, so the best thing you can do is learn what products to avoid.
Some are pretty obvious (we hope so, at least). Avoid any and all ivory products – carved or raw ivory; avoid jewelry made from tortoiseshell and any other product made from sea turtles; fur or skins from large cats like tigers; or aquatic mammals like sea otters. Don’t buy live wild animals, and check labels carefully on any “medicinal” product, as it could be made from rhino, leopard, pangolin, Asiatic bear or other threatened or endangered species.
Some products may be allowed into the U.S., but it is always best to ask first. Some live reptiles, leather products made from reptiles, bird feathers, wools, coral and shell products, and certain plants like orchids and cacti, are also prohibited from being brought into the U.S. Before you buy anything, feel free to ask the seller what the product is made of, where it came from, whether you need any permits to bring this back to the U.S., and even the blatant, up-front, “is this legal?”
Most importantly, when in doubt, don’t buy it!
We’d discourage buying any animal-related product, but if you have a question about an item you are thinking about purchasing, or maybe already purchased, you should be able to contact the local natural resource agencies in the country you’re visiting. You can check with the country’s CITES (Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species) Management Authority.
You will probably be spending a few hours in the airport and will have a long flight for your trip, so take some of that time to read more about all the illegal wildlife products to watch out for. You can find some great information and videos thanks to The Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance here.