Friday, October 20, 2006

Souvenirs Taken by Tourists Lead to Decimating Wildlife Populations

Amazing that a trinket is worth the destruction of species.


Wildlife threatened by tourist souvenirs

Staff and agencies
Tuesday September 5, 2006

Guardian Unlimited

Up to 600,000 Britons have bought souvenirs made from animals while holidaying abroad in the last five years, a survey revealed today.

Elephant ivory, rhino horn, animal teeth and claws, big cat skins and reptile skins as well as coral are among the items that have been purchased by holidaymakers and brought back to the UK, according to a poll for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

Of 1,804 people who had travelled overseas within the last five years it found that 26% of travellers had seen animal items for sale and 7% had purchased at least one of them.

IFAW said this represented 1.5% of all those who travelled abroad over the last five years - 600,000 people across the UK. Tourists who come home with some of these products risk heavy fines and jail terms if they are caught with them at the airport.

The group's UK director, Robbie Marsland, said: "Tourists need to remember if they don't buy, animals won't die.

"If 600,000 British tourists are bringing back parts of dead animals as souvenirs think how many millions must be dying internationally."

Many of the animals slaughtered to produce souvenirs are protected species, including elephants, rhinos, leopards and turtles, and are protected by international law, but the IFAW said there was "widespread confusion" surrounding their legal status.

Wildlife campaigner Nikki Kelly said: "Most of these souvenirs are being bought unwittingly simply because travellers are confused by the complex laws governing trade in wild animals or because they just aren't aware of them.

"Worse still, wildlife souvenirs are often sold so openly abroad many tourists mistakenly believe they must be legal."

IFAW said the trade also raised concerns about the welfare and conservation of species that aren't currently endangered. Porcupines, for instance, are being killed in their thousands to supply quills for souvenirs.

To tackle the problem, the group has launched a "Think Twice" campaign with the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) to encourage people not to buy wildlife products.

In particular it will be targeting the 500,000 British tourists who make their way to South Africa each year, where it said the souvenir trade is endangering not just native wildlife, but animals in Western and Central Africa too.

The campaign has been supported by 70 MPs, including environment minister Ian Pearson, the shadow foreign secretary, William Hague, and backbenchers Ann Widdicombe and Clare Short.

Mike Gapes, MP for Ilford South, said he supported the campaign and would not buy wildlife souvenirs.

He said: "While some souvenirs may appear harmless often they belie a bloody trade. Wild animals belong in the wild, not in our homes.

"I hope future generations will be lucky enough to experience the thrill of seeing wildlife in its natural habitat and not through history books."

Keith Richards, from ABTA, said the organisation would brief the 6,500 travel agents and 850 tour operators it represents in the UK and ask them to give advice to customers about what they can bring back.

Mr Richards added: "Unless the travel industry acts now some of the very animals so many people go abroad to see may soon only be found on our mantelpieces or in our jewellery boxes."

IFAW said holidaymakers should look for alternative mementoes, such as local handicrafts instead of items that harm the very animals many of them had travelled so far to see.

Possession of animal goods is not illegal, only their trade, but IFAW said people who realised they had any of these souvenirs at home and did not want them could send them to the group, which would use them for educational purposes.

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