Wildlife charity WWF says that British holidaymakers may be pushing threatened species nearer to extinction when they buy exotic souvenirs overseas.Coral, elephant ivory carvings, traditional Chinese medicine and snake skin accessories are amongst the top ten illegal wildlife trade items being bought back to the UK as gifts.
WWF is urging holidaymakers to be vigilant about buying wildlife souvenirs during one of the busiest weeks for holidaymakers travelling overseas. Traditional Chinese medicine containing endangered species such as tigers, rhinos and seahorses tops the list with Customs seizing 97 of these items in the last year (2006-07). This was followed by 44 seizures of snake and lizard products such as handbags and shoes and 39 seizures of similar crocodile and alligator products.
Customs confiscated more than 163,000 illegal wildlife trade items during the last year, many made from highly endangered species.
Heather Sohl, wildlife trade officer at WWF, said: “Many tourists could be unwittingly helping to push some of the world’s most endangered species to the brink of extinction - all for the sake of an exotic souvenir. Although the latest figures indicate that some illegal wildlife trade items are being brought in knowingly by wildlife criminals the majority of seizures appear to be items innocently brought back by holidaymakers as souvenirs. Our message is - if in doubt don’t buy.”
In the last year around 158,000 illegal plants such as orchids and cycads, 221 elephant ivory and skin products and 959 live reptiles such as snakes, chameleons, tortoises and terrapins were seized by Customs.
WWF wants to draw attention to the fact that to ensure their future survival 827 species of animals and plants are currently banned from international trade and a further 32,840 are strictly controlled under a wildlife trade convention called CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). These include many corals, reptiles and orchids as well as the more obvious tigers, rhinos, turtles and elephants.
WWF and TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, are also urging people to report anything suspicious that could be linked to illegal wildlife trade in the UK and abroad using a dedicated hotline. Every report will be treated confidentially and followed up by specialist wildlife investigators. There is also an accompanying guide with examples of what to look out for, which can be obtained by calling the hotline on +44 1483 426111.
Heather Sohl said: “We need the public’s help to stamp out the illegal wildlife trade, not only to help protect endangered species but the anti poaching officers worldwide who put their lives on the line fighting wildlife crime.”