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Souvenirs: how can you tell when they’re illegal?

NETHERLANDS | Tuesday, 5 April 2011 | Views [1630]

Souvenirs, who does not like ‘em. They’re a way to remember your great holiday, or your adventurous trip. But do you know that many souvenirs are made out of animals or plants that are threatened with extinction? You would not be the first to have your freshly bought souvenirs confiscated by customs. Not a nice way to end your holiday. And even worse: by buying these souvenirs, we’re participating in destroying this beautiful planet, which us travelers love so much!


To help you out on buying the right souvenirs, and doing yourself and nature a favour, here’s a top 10 of often used animal- and plant species as souvenirs:

1. Coral
2. Big shells
3. Elephants
4. Turtles
5. Big Cats
6. Snakes
7. Crocodiles and lizards
8. Parrots
9. Butterflies
10. Orchids and cactuses

Corals live in the warm oceans around Asia and Oceania, Africa, the Caribbean and Latin- and South America. They appear in many different colours and shapes. Especially hard corals are sold as souvenirs. Sometimes in whole pieces and other times they are processed into jewelery like necklaces, bracelets and earrings.

Big Shells
Big special shells like the Doopvontshell and the Karkoshell are sold all over the world. The Karkoshell is especially sold in the Caribbean. Many of these shells are sold in their original state, but sometimes they are processed into ashtrays and lamps.

Products made out of these majestic animals are mainly sold in Asia and Africa. Ivory is the most famous product derived from elephants. Souvenirs made from ivory are jewelery, sculptures, chopsticks and stamps, for example. You can also buy products made out of elephant skin and elephant feet. Ivory can also come from other animals, like walruses and hippopotamuses.


Sea turtles live in warm oceans all over the world. Their shield is sold as
decoration or processed into musical instruments, pen-trays, bellows, cases, spectacle frames, combs and jewelery like bracelets and earrings. Stuffed sea turtles are also available as souvenirs.

Big Cats
Wild cats like tigers, jaguars, leopards and small lynxes are endangered nearly everywhere in the world. Chances to encounter them in the wild are small. Unfortunately, you’ll see them more easily processed into souvenirs. Their skin is offered like that – skin- or processed into fashion articles like coats, bags, belts and hats. Necklaces are made out of their paws, teeth and nails. Parts of big cats are processed into traditional medicine. Stuffed smaller cats are also sold as souvenirs.

Many different types of snakes and lizards, that live all over the world, are endangered. An important reason why is that they’re being sold as merchandise. The skin is sold like that -skin-, but is mostly processed into wallets, bags, belts, shoes and jewelery. Stuffed animals are also sold and they’re even available alive. Sometimes products are sold made from breeded animals.

Crocodiles and lizards
Crocodiles live in Asia, Oceania, Africa, parts of the Caribbean, North-America and Latin- and South- America. Many fashion accessories are made out of crocodiles. Examples are wallets, bags, shoes and belts. They are sold stuffed, from very big to smaller sizes. Their skin, meat, claws and even alive animals are sold.

Monitor lizard

Parrots are an edangered species and are protected in many countries. Many products made from these animals are sold in the Caribbean, Latin- and South America, Africa, Asia, Oceania, North-America and Europe. They are offered alive as pets and also stuffed. Feathers are processed into many souvenirs like pens, traditional music instruments and crowns. In theory, the feathers can come from birds who lost them naturally. In practice, many birds are taken from their natural habitat.

Butterflies and other insects live all over the world. Protected and sometimes highly endangered species of butterflies and insects live in many touristic exotic places, but also in Europe. They are often offered as a souvenir: in frames or alive. Chances these souvenirs are made out of endangered species of butterflies and insects are big.

Orchids and cactuses
Orchids and cactuses are sold almost everywhere in the world. Sometimes they are cultivated, but often they are wild. In many cases you cannot just bring souvenirs that are made out of these plants: you’ll need a license. A rainstick is an example of such a souvenir. If you’re in doubt about souvenirs that are made out of plants, it’s better not to buy it.

If you want to know a bit more about the international trade in animals and plants, you can visit the CITES website (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). This is an international agreement between governments. Its aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.

Tags: souvenirs, trafficking

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