From ivory souvenirs to animal skins and hummingbird charms, in the era of global travelling and mass consumerism, this is how you can avoid wildlife trade and help endangered animal species
Words: Aleksandra Georgieva
Photography: Logan Weaver, Mohammed Hassan
26 June 2023
Global travelling is a growing aspect of tourism and with more access to remote destinations, as well as tourist hotspots, it becomes our responsibility to take care in travelling ethically and remaining mindful when shopping for souvenirs to bring home from our holidays. Nowadays our journeys often take us to curious places, whether that’s amid tourist crowds at big cities or among indigenous people inhabiting under-the-radar regions. Regardless of whether we find ourselves on exotic islands, blending with the commotion on the streets of Japanese tourist hotspots, or diving into a wildlife adventure in remote safari regions, the urge of bringing home souvenirs can be strong.
Yet, travellers are often unknowingly exposed to markets with piles of unethically sourced souvenirs, whether those are items made from ivory, big cat parts, furs and so on. It is no secret that wildlife trade across the globe is an ongoing animal crisis but it is vital to remain aware that a great power lays in consumerism and as creators of the consumer demand, which drives the need for supply in the first place, travellers hold the key to preventing the harmful environmental impact of this vicious circle.
As the remote regions of the world become more easily accessible to the average tourist, it is vital for travellers to understand the scale of impact they have on the way the trade market functions and its ability to tempt visitors with local “souvenirs”. To a large extent the effort for wildlife conservation is in the hands of the consumer of tourism and the goods that are directly and indirectly connected to the travel industry. On that note it is important to know which wildlife souvenirs to avoid purchasing. While some of the items, we have featured on this list might seem obvious, many of our readers are left in disbelief of how easy it could be to remain ignorant, or to even be fooled, over the harmful effects certain souvenir items can have over animals and wildlife.
‘‘To a large extent the effort for wildlife conservation is in the hands of the consumer of tourism and the goods that are directly and indirectly connected to the travel industry.’’
Animal skins and furs top our list, which is among the seemingly most obvious trade products to be avoided. From crocodile and snake leather to tiger furs, the fashion garments made at the expense of wildlife, often even endangered species, can seem endless at times. In the high fashion scene, handbags, shoes and belts are often made from reptile leather. However, apart from lizards, furry animals including a variety of big cats, polar bears, otters and even animal species such as seals, are often captured and killed for their skin. Some countries require permits to export products made of animal skin but whether or not travellers are wiling to take on that risk when crossing international borders, wildlife shouldn’t be forced into such levels of gross exploitation and ultimate destruction.
The simple truth is that there is no one in the world - not a single being - that needs ivory, but an elephant; or in respect a rhino, narwhal, warthog, hippopotamus, whale or any other animal that is haunted for the ivory body parts nature has gifted them. It is essential to normalise that buying ivory souvenirs should not only be unthinkable and prohibited, but it should even be considered taboo. Yet, amid the vast access to information and excess efforts of spreading wildlife preservation awareness among consumers, ivory trading remains among the worst threats to wildlife introduced by humans.
Similar to this issue is the crisis of trading sea turtle products. It is beyond troubling to think that today almost every sea turtle species is endangered. Yet, these marine animals are widely haunted for illegal trade of their shells, meat and eggs. It is imperative to avoid products labeled “tortoiseshell” at all costs, alongside turtle leather products or hair clips, jewellery and musical instruments that could result or have resulted in harming these peaceful marine creatures.
Seahorses are another absurd souvenir idea that has somehow gained popularity in the past few decades especially in coastal tourist cities. The majority of the 40 existing seahorse species are endangered, yet countless specimen are sold alive for aquarium trade. Meanwhile, an estimate of 150 million seahorses are captured and dried in the sun to either become souvenirs or to be used for traditional medicine purposes.
Among the popular marine souvenirs we often find corals and seashells. Some of the seashells are captured with the animals inside them still alive. Overharvesting of corals left many of the species endangered. While decorating your home with oceanic souvenirs may seem like an exotic idea, make sure to check the laws of the country you visit and to source your souvenirs ethically. You could easily make a tremendous impact on the industry by avoiding buying souvenirs that have costed the lives of wildlife species or ones that have caused the unnatural or premature death of oceanic species.
Hummingbirds and bird feathers are another aspect of wildlife trade where species are captured for their natural beauty. While the world’s smallest birds unarguably belong in the wild, traders seemingly easily meet the large demands for superstitious tokens. Hummingbird charms are believed to have several superstitious purposes including keeping the man next to you loyal. While Mexican markets give them away nearly for free, the trade of ownership of such birds without permission is a crime.
While various endangered animal species constitute of staggering amounts of wildlife trade across the globe, the consumer has a tremendous power into changing the troubling statistics. There are many ways wildlife is harmed in unethical and even inhumane conditions for the sake of satisfying consumer needs or tourist curiosity. It is sad and despicable that humans have turned wild animal species into souvenir charms and holiday trophies, but it is never too late to start shopping humane on your travels.
NOMADSofORIGIN is an independent annual publication with a focus on sustainable travelling and global cultural values. Each issue features interviews, engaging articles and photo guides, which take our nomadic readers through different destinations and introduce them to local people's perspectives.
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