Should you buy animal souvenirs?

Animal Souvenirs

Souvenirs, trinkets, knick-knacks and gifts that we purchase during our travels often act as a lasting memory of a holiday. These keepsakes come in all shapes and sizes and remind us of fond travel memories that may have otherwise been forgotten. However, certain souvenirs and gifts are sourced from local animals and in some case can threaten the survival of local species. Many tourists have made the common mistake of unwittingly buying products which come from endangered animals or which have caused animal to suffer. This article outlines what you as travellers can keep an eye out for.

In many countries, wild animal products are often marketed to tourists as popular souvenirs. As stated by ‘right-tourism’, the trade of animals, or animal products, threatens numerous species from the local region. Whilst there is international policy and legislation protecting animal species from the impacts of trade (CITES), the awareness among travellers regarding ‘animal souvenirs’ is still relatively low. CITES is the convention on International trade in endangered species of wild flora and fauna, currently 175 countries are signed up to the convention which envelopes ~5000 animal species worldwide. Animal products offered to travellers vary from country to country with many looking like innocent items such as charms, jewellery and clothing. Below is a list of common animal souvenirs out there today:

Ivory and other mammal or reptile teeth and bones

One of the highest profile animal products is Elephant Ivory. The trade in elephant ivory has sadly experienced a large surge in recent times, with approximately 4000 elephants killed for their tasks in 2012 in Africa and Asia. Ivory is recognised as a luxury product in China, however ivory from elephants can also be sold in the form of carved figurines, chopsticks or bangles. The appetite for ivory products fuels poaching and is responsible for pushing elephants towards extinction. Furthermore, teeth from endangered tigers, bears and crocodiles may also be sold as jewellery or as charms. Although this may seem like only a very small item, the animal may have been killed purely for it.

Quills, feathers and bird beaks

Quills, feathers or birds beaks may be used for decorative or novelty items. Many bird species around the globe are close to extinction, such as the endangered hornbills. Buying products made from their parts supports and the illegal wildlife trade.

Reptile skins

Reptile skins from snakes and crocodiles may be used for footwear, hats, belts, handbags, wallets, and drums. Many snakes are caught in the wild and inhumanely slaughtered for their skins. As most crocodile species are now endangered, farms now breed them for their meat and skins. The farms often keep large numbers of crocodiles in concrete pools in unnatural, overcrowded conditions. The killing are commonly inhumane.


Animal furs are typically found used in clothing items, but they may also be used for trinkets, ‘good-luck’ charms or in traditional materials. Furs deriving from wild animals could come from endangered wild cats and deers, which are usually caught in traps. Many of the furs used in trims and coats in fashion outlets will be sourced from China where animals are raised in intensive farms in appalling conditions and skinned inhumanely. Animals used by the Chinese fur trade include domestic cat and dogs.

Turtle and Tortoise Shells

Turtle and tortoise shells are made into items such combs, hair brushes, necklaces, cigarette cases, hair clips, spectacle frames and jewellery or as whole shells as decorative items. The treatment of animals when they are caught is typically inhumane.

Wildlife in Medicines

Some traditional medicines may use wildlife products, including endangered species. Some wildlife parts are also used as aphrodisiacs. The use of parts and products from wild animals in traditional Chinese medicine includes bear gallbladder and bile, tiger and leopard bones, glands from musk deer, Saiga antelope horns, rhinoceros horns, penis bone (bacula) from fur seal. Other wild animal species used to make traditional medicines include pangolins, crocodiles, turtles, snakes, lizards, and primates such as macaques. Even in tablet or capsule forms, these products may be illegal for sale in some countries and illegal to take across international borders.

Corals and Seashells

Corals and seashells are often used in trinkets, novelty souvenirs and decorations. Coral reefs are vulnerable to the impacts of tourism. It is estimated 20% of the world’s coral reefs have already been lost. Buying products made from coral contributes to the loss of one of the ocean’s most important ecosystems. Over-harvesting of seashells has pushed some species, such as the Queen Conch, to the brink of extinction.

Thanks to Right-Tourism for information sharing. For more information regarding international legislation for animal souvenirs check out CITES. See the Right-tourism or CITES website.

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