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The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"The wildlife trade is second only to the illegal trade in drugs"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 25 July, 2000, 10:00 GMT 11:00 UK
Tourist souvenirs harm wildlife
two tiger cubs
Thoughtless souvenir-buying puts rare species under pressure
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

The United Kingdom Government is warning tourists travelling abroad not to buy souvenirs made from endangered species.

By buying these wildlife souvenirs, tourists could be placing some of our most beautiful and unusual wildlife on the road to extinction

Stuart Chapman, WWF
It is launching a campaign, Souvenir Alert, against the background of 52,000 illegal wildlife articles confiscated in the last 12 months.

Most of the confiscated items were souvenirs and traditional Chinese medicinal products, but there were 1,500 live animals as well.

The illegal wildlife trade is estimated to be worth more than 5 billion annually, and with 15 million UK tourists expected to travel abroad this year the potential damage is huge.

Every year, returning holidaymakers bring back to the UK a range of illegal articles, including coral, ivory, animal skins and turtle shell products, unaware that importing them is either illegal or requires a special permit.

Prosecution risk

The campaign is being organised by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions and by WWF, the global environmental campaign.

It is producing more than a million leaflets, as well as posters and luggage labels, all showing rare and endangered species.

confisscated elephant tusks
Ivory is tempting but risky
WWF's wildlife trade programme head, Stuart Chapman, said: "By buying these wildlife souvenirs, tourists could be placing some of our most beautiful and unusual wildlife on the road to extinction, as well as exposing themselves to the possibility of prosecution and a hefty fine.

"Ignorance is not a defence, so if in doubt, don't buy. Time is running out for some of the world's most endangered species, just because people want an exotic gift."

Mr Chapman told BBC News Online: "The message is when abroad: Think before you buy. Don't leave your brain at home when you go on holiday."

One passenger was stopped in the "Nothing to Declare" customs channel at London's Heathrow airport carrying a two-metre (6 ft) stuffed Nile crocodile.

Not aware

He said he did not know that he needed a permit to import it, nor that by doing so he was liable to criminal prosecution.

The most commonly seized illegal souvenirs in 1999 were:

  • alligator and crocodile products
  • traditional Chinese medicine containing tiger, leopard and bear parts and musk
  • queen conch shells
  • coral
  • live plants, especially orchids and cacti
  • snake and lizard skin products
  • tortoises and terrapins
  • elephant ivory and skin products
  • caviar
  • live parrots, snakes, lizards, chameleons and iguanas.
The international wildlife trade is governed by Cites, the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. Its provisions have included caviar since April 1998, to protect the sturgeon from which it comes.

Not wanted, alive or dead
Since then, imports of caviar into the UK over 250 grams (a personal allowance) have needed a permit. But Customs officers at Heathrow and Gatwick airports have impounded about 800 kilograms over that period.

Not all illegal imports involve individual tourists. A Customs team at Heathrow intercepted a consignment of reptiles which included more than 100 young crocodiles, which had to be kept in three children's paddling pools until they could be re-exported.

And at Gatwick earlier this year, Customs officers were called to a duty-free shop where a group of Russian seamen were trying to barter tortoises in exchange for cigarettes.

The seamen fled, abandoning their barter material in the terminal building. A search recovered 22 tortoises, and five chameleons which had been left among some potted plants.

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