BE INFORMED. BUY INFORMED.
The United States — as one of the largest consumer markets in the world—drives demand for products around the globe, and represents a significant market for illegal wildlife and wildlife products, including jewelry, clothing, medicine, carvings, souvenirs, household décor, pets and food. This demand supports a trade that threatens to decimate wildlife populations around the world, from iconic species to little-known animals that are critical to ecosystems and livelihoods.
Learn more below about how you can be an informed consumer.
Traveling Abroad? Know Before You Go
Around the world, you’ll find wildlife and plant products for sale—as jewelry, clothes, pets, souvenirs and more. But just because something is for sale doesn’t mean it’s legal to take home. Some of these products may be made from protected animals or plants and may be illegal to export or import. Other wildlife products may require permits before you can bring them home to the United States. By making informed choices, you can avoid having your souvenir confiscated or paying a fine— and support wildlife conservation around the world. Download the materials below to take with you on your next trip!
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Hollywood Actor Josh Duhamel Stars in New WildAid Awareness Campaign
“Many of the world’s most magnificent animals are being pushed to extinction by the illegal trade in products made from their body parts,” Duhamel says. “If you travel abroad, you may be offered one of these products. They may look nothing like the animal itself, but don’t be fooled.”
Learn How to Identify “Tortoiseshell” Products from Endangered Sea Turtles
Too Rare To Wear is a coalition of tourism businesses, conservation organizations, mediaorganizations, and others working to educate travelers about these products and how toavoid them. Watch below to learn about turtleshell products found in souvenir shops and markets across Latin America and the Caribbean.
JetBlue Airways Urges Travelers to “Buy Informed”
Wildlife trafficking in the Caribbean is devastating indigenous animal populations across the region. We teamed up with JetBlue Airways and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to show travelers how they can protect beautiful species like turtles, coral, and the blue and gold macaw.
Ed Norton Explains How YOU Have The Power To Stop Wildlife Trafficking
The U.S. Wildlife Trafficking Alliance and Discovery Communications launched a new PSA with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to raise awareness about wildlife trafficking and encourage consumers to “Buy Informed.” The PSA is airing now on Discovery networks in the U.S. and Africa.
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Get the Facts
Wild animals are being slaughtered by the thousands, often for just a single body part, to meet consumer demand for jewelry, clothing, medicine, carvings, souvenirs, and other household items including art, sculptures, rugs and musical instruments. A new assessment from the Zoological Society of London and the World Wildlife Fund reports that global wildlife populations have fallen by 58% since 1970; and suggests that if the trend continues that decline could reach two-thirds among vertebrates by 2020.
Read more about individual species at risk below.
Wildlife trafficking is a multi-billion-dollar transnational criminal activity that is not only a critical conservation issue, but is also a threat to security. It is ranked as the fourth most profitable transnational crime, only behind the drug trade, arms trade, and human trafficking. Wildlife trafficking undermines conservation efforts, fuels corruption, threatens the rule of law, and destabilizes communities that depend on wildlife for eco-tourism revenues.
Wildlife poaching and trafficking is a global problem, not just occurring in Africa. Many illegal products also come into the U.S. through Latin America, South America, and Asia. And once the animals are killed, their ivory, horn, shells or other valued products are quickly smuggled out of their home countries and marketed worldwide by international criminal syndicates.
Unfortunately, the Unites States is one of the largest markets in the world for illegal wildlife products, including ivory, jewelry, trinkets, antiques, and skins and furs used in the luxury fashion industry.
As animals disappear from the wild, the opportunity to view them decreases—creating a domino effect that is rippling across the travel and tourism industry. A new study has shown that elephant poaching alone is costing a whopping $25 million a year in lost tourism revenues. For the animals, this is a matter of life and death. But for many who depend on tourist revenues, it’s a matter of livelihood as well. Ensuring animals remain in the wild is not only good for the wildlife and ecosystems, but it’s also good for business.
The quickest and most direct way to strangle the international syndicates that are orchestrating the killings, is to stigmatize and reduce the demand for illegal wildlife products. Consumers need to Be Informed and #Buy Informed.
Frequently Trafficked Wildlife
Every 15 minutes, an elephant is killed for its ivory. In a recent three-year period, approximately one fifth of the entire African elephant population, 100,000 elephants, were killed for their ivory. And according to the Great Elephant Census, an effort coordinated by Paul G. Allen's Vulcan, Inc., African savanna elephants have declined by 30% in seven years. At the current rate of killing it won't be long before elephants are gone from the wild. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service recently imposed a near-total ban on the elephant ivory trade in the United States, but elephants are still under threat around the world. Conservation Status: Threatened to Endangered.
Rhinos are rapidly disappearing from the wild due in part to high demand for their horn in the Asian medicinal trade where one horn may be worth more than $10,000 USD. If poaching continues at current rates, rhinos will be pushed to extinction. Rhinoceros populations in South Africa are being killed at a rate of more than three a day. Since 2008, one-fifth of the remaining African rhinoceroses, nearly 6,000, have been poached. Only 3,000 Asian Rhinos remain in the wild. Conservation Status: Endangered to Critically Endangered.
Tiger populations throughout their range have been decimated due largely to the value of tiger body parts in the Asian medicinal trade. In the last century, 97 percent of the tiger population has disappeared. Only roughly 3,200 tigers remain in the wild. Tiger parts are believed to have aphrodisiac and curative properties and one poached tiger can yield thousands of dollars. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service inspections of Asian medicinal shops in the U.S. still find items made from, or containing, tiger parts. Tigers are also poached for their pelts. Conservation Status: Endangered to Critically Endangered.
Leopards live in sub-Saharan Africa, northeast Africa, central Asia, India and China. Despite this wide geographic spread, the largest distribution of any wild cat, many of their populations are endangered. Leopards are poached from the wild and often sold into the illegal trade for their skins. The Amur leopard, for example, is listed as critically endangered with a population in the wild of only around 60 remaining individual cats; the snow leopard is listed as endangered with a population of only around 4,000 to 6,500 in the wild. Conservation Status: Endangered to Critically Endangered.
Cheetah populations continue to decline in the wild, in large part due to poaching, particularly to supply the trade in live cheetahs, which are particularly in demand in Middle Eastern countries. Since 1980, their population has fallen by about 90 percent in Africa. And in Asia, only about 200 cheetahs remain in the wild, limited to small regions in Iran. Conservation Status: Endangered.
All seven species of sea turtles are now endangered, with three species listed as critically endangered. 80,000 are killed each year, largely to supply the demand for their eggs, meat and skins. Sea turtle eggs are frequently smuggled into the U.S. and sea turtle nests on U.S. beaches are frequently raided to steal the eggs. Conservation Status: Endangered to Critically Endangered.
Pangolins are often called scaly anteaters due to their similar appearance and preferred diet of ants and termites. Pangolins are solitary creatures that will roll up into a ball to protect itself from a potential predator. Because of this, they are easy victims of wildlife crime and are often poached for their meat and scales, primarily in Asia and Africa. Eight species of pangolins are found on two continents and they range from Vulnerable to Critically Endangered. Pangolins are believed to be the most trafficked mammal on earth. More than 1 million pangolins have been poached from the wild in the last decade alone, killed in large numbers to meet a growing demand for their meat, skins and scales. Conservation Status: Vulnerable to Critically Endangered.
There are over 400 species of sharks living throughout the world. Illegal and unsustainable fishing and a demand for shark fins, which are used to make soup, have led to a rapid decline of shark species globally. Every year, 100 million sharks are killed and a quarter of shark species are now facing extinction.
Every year, millions of live birds are traded illegally and sold into the live pet trade. Wildlife trafficking is the biggest threat to endangered birds. Many don't even survive the capture and transport process, resulting in even more deaths. Although a variety of parts are traded, live birds and bird feathers dominate the trade.
The U.S. imports many species of snakes, as live animals for the trade but also for as skins and skin products such as shoes, handbags, and belts. Like snakes, the U.S. imports many species of lizards from all over the world as pets, and as skins for products such as shoes, handbags, and belts. Lizard species in the illegal trade include many species now rare or endangered in their native range, Caribbean iguanas, monitors, tegus, and horned lizards.
Queen conch populations are declining in many parts of the world due to overfishing and poaching. Illegal harvest in the Caribbean is a common problem in the region and conch meat and shells are not allowed to be imported into the US from a number of Caribbean countries. Queen conch are harvested for their meat, but the shells are also commonly used as decorative items or can be found in jewelry.
Coral reefs all over the world are being destroyed by destructive fishing practices and collectors who harvest coral for the aquarium, curio and jewelry trades. Colorful species of coral, which often come from waters where those species are rare or where the collection is restricted or prohibited, are highly desired by aquarium hobbyists.
NEVER BUY: Top 5 Products to Avoid
Ivory: raw or carved
Avoid raw or carved ivory from the teeth or tusks of elephants, whales, walruses, and narwhals. Do not purchase ivory carved into jewelry, carvings, figurines, chopsticks, or hair clips.
Avoid products from tigers used in traditional medicine, sold as furs, or as souvenirs or “good luck” charms.
Avoid products from rhinos used in traditional medicine, jewelry, or souvenirs.
All Sea Turtle Products
Avoid jewelry, hair combs and sunglass frames made from sea turtle shell. Do not buy sea turtle meat, soup, eggs, facial creams, shells, leathers, boots, handbags, and other goods made from sea turtle skin.
Avoid traditional medicines made from rhino, tiger, leopard, Asiatic black bear, or musk deer.
BUY CAREFULLY: Top 5 Products to Question
Reptile Leather Products
Many garments including belts, handbags, watchbands, and shoes are made from non-endangered species and are ok to purchase. However, certain leather products may contain caiman, crocodiles, lizards and snakes. Check that your product has a CITES permit before purchasing.
Coral and Shells
Many countries limit the collection, sale, and export of live coral and coral products. If you want to purchase coral as a souvenir, jewelry, or aquarium decoration, find out if you need a CITES permit to bring it back to the U.S. Permits may also be required to bring back queen conch shells from many Caribbean countries.
Wild Bird Feathers
Most wild bird feathers require permits, including from parrots, macaws, cockatoos and finches.
Beware when purchasing furs while traveling abroad. Most of the world’s wild cats are protected and you cannot import skins or items made using the fur of these protected animals.
Shahtoosh shawls are woven with the down hair of the protected Tibetan antelope. However, travelers may import clothing made from vicuna (a South American mammal) with a permit from the country of purchase.
Ask Before You Buy
- What is this product made of?
- Where did this product come from?
And if traveling outside of the U.S.:
- Does the country I’m visiting allow the sale and export of this product?
- Do I need permits or other documents from this country or the United States to bring this item home?
Too Rare to Wear Report on Endangered Souvenirs
World Wildlife Fund Blog: “How to Buy Environmentally Friendly Souvenirs”
Defenders of Wildlife Fact Sheets on Wildlife Trafficking
International Fund for Animal Welfare: “Selling into Extinction”