What should travelers know about buying souvenirs made from animals and plants? Are there any laws in place that prevent people from taking these products out of countries and bringing them into our own country?

These are questions we certainly had so we went to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the World Wildlife Fund for answers. There is a great brochure called "Buyer Beware!" for anyone traveling to another country. Here's what it says.

The Law

Just because items made from wildlife are on sale in other countries doesn't mean that it is okay to buy them and bring them into our country. We have strict laws that are meant to protect endangered species worldwide, not just our own. There is also an international treaty, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, in place that seeks to prevent the capture of rare wildlife to sell for profit.

Why, do these laws and treaties exist? The primary reason is that many of the world's most precious plants and animals are declining at an alarming rate. There is a tremendous demand for some of these wildlife products from consumers all over the world. That, with the added ability to transport products anywhere makes it easy to purchase endangered wildlife products even in your home town. By being aware of the impact that buying these products has on the further decline of certain species and by not buying these products, individual travelers can help to save animals and plants. If there isn't a market for them, then they won't be captured and sold. This is certainly one very easy way for individuals to make a difference in the world.

Some of the laws that a traveler might be breaking when they buy a wildlife product and/or attempt to bring it into our country are:

  • The Endangered Species Act. This law prohibits the import and export of any plant or animal listed as endangered as well as many of the species listed as threatened by the U.S. government.


  • Lacey Act. This act prohibits the importation of any animal that has been captured, transported, or sold in violation of any foreign law. Fortunately, many counties ban or strictly limit trade in wildlife and wildlife products.


  • CITES, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. This is a wildlife treaty signed by over 130 countries. It regulates and sometimes prohibits the import and export of wild animal and plant species that are threatened by trade.


  • Marine Mammal Protection Act. This U.S. law prohibits the importation of marine animals or any part of a marine animal. This of course includes whales, dolphins, seals, sea otters, walrus, and polar bears.


  • African Elephant Conservation Act. This act prohibits the importation of products made from ivory, the tusks of elephants. It does allow people to bring in entire tusks taken from elephants that were hunted legally in certain African countries.


  • Wild Bird Conservation Act. This act regulates and, in some cases, prohibits, the importation of wild and exotic bird species.


Here are the guidelines that the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife suggests we and other travelers follow.

  • First, it is very important when considering the purchase of any wildlife product that you try to determine where it came from. Remember though, wildlife is sometimes collected or killed in one country and then smuggled into another country with false permits which makes it hard to trace the origin of the product or wildlife.


  • Second, you should always check to see what restrictions may exist in the country where you are purchasing the product or wildlife and in the United States.

Animal Products to Avoid

These are some animal products that travelers should certainly be careful of purchasing.

Reptile skins and leather are often used in watchbands, handbags, belts, and shoes. This includes:
  • all sea turtle products
  • products made from black caiman, American crocodile, Orinoco crocodile, and Philippine crocodile
  • almost any lizard skin originating in Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, India, and Nepal
  • many snakeskin products originating from Central and South American countries

Leather products made from the pangolin (anteater) originating from Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia may not be brought into the United States.

Many wild bird species are threatened by habitat destruction and the wildlife trade. High numbers of birds die during their capture, transportation to the United States, and when they are kept in quarantine.

Ivory from either Asia or Africa is generally prohibited. Purchasing ivory, like the purchase of any wildlife product, encourages poachers and traders to continue their practices.

Any fur from most of the spotted cats in the world can not be brought into the United States. These include the jaguar, snow leopard, tiger, ocelot, margay, and the tiger cat. Also prohibited are furs from many of the marine mammals.

The collection and sale of coral from coral reefs is prohibited in many countries. Coral reefs are the main component of some marine communities and collecting pieces jeopardizes the marine animals and plants that depend upon them.

There are certain plants that are also protected by these laws. Some of these are orchids, cacti, and cycads. Any plant you bring into the United States must be examined for desease and pests.

Organizations You Might Want To Contact

  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of Law Enforcement,
    P.O. Box 3247
    Arlington, VA 22203-3247



home | map of peru | site map contact us | glossary