Souvenirs and endangered species

Think twice before buying a souvenir made from animal or plant products. If it comes from an endangered species, you may not be allowed to bring it back and could even face prosecution. Find out what to avoid and what you need a permit to bring in to the UK.

What to look out for when shopping abroad

Some gifts and foods available in certain countries can be made from endangered plants or animals. Endangered species include:

  • plants such as orchids, cacti, mahogany and ramin trees
  • animals such as elephants, rhinos, whales, turtles, coral and many reptiles

You should only buy a wildlife souvenir if you are sure it does not come from an endangered species. You risk breaking the law and having your goods seized by customs when you return to the UK if you do not know:

  • the source
  • whether you need a permit to bring it into the European Union (EU)

In some cases you could even be prosecuted.

Endangered and protected species

Over 33,000 species of endangered plants and animals are protected through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which regulates international trade through a system of permits and certificates.

International trade in the most seriously threatened species is prohibited.

Other endangered species are protected, and you need a CITES permit if you wish to bring into the EU any products that are made from or contain these species.

Animal Health's Wildlife Licensing Registration Service issues CITES permits and certificates for the UK. They can tell you whether you need a CITES permit to bring back a particular animal or plant product.

Items to avoid (where international trade is prohibited)

These include but are not limited to the following:

Elephant ivory

International trade in ivory is illegal, but ivory carvings and jewellery are still offered to tourists, particularly in Africa and Asia.

There are some exceptions to the ban which relate to Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe because they have healthy elephant populations.

You should check with Animal Health if you are travelling to one of these countries.

Traditional medicine containing endangered species

Some Chinese medicines claim to contain parts of tigers, rhinos or leopards, for example.

Sea turtle shells

The shells are still made into jewellery, combs and sunglasses frames, which are sold in the Caribbean and other tropical beach resorts.

Products made from big cats

Anything made from or containing jaguars, leopards or tigers is banned (teeth, claws and jaws are most commonly used).

Shahtoosh

This is a type of shawl woven from the hair of the Tibetan antelope or Chiru, which is killed for its coat.

Bushmeat

This is the meat of any wild animal that is hunted for food outside the European Union (EU). As well as harming endangered species, bushmeat can pose a health hazard to both humans and livestock.

Items for which you need an import permit

If you're considering buying an exotic wildlife souvenir abroad, you should check with Animal Health, preferably before you leave the UK. They will tell you whether the species involved is protected and, if so, how to get a CITES permit.

For example, you will usually need a permit to bring back anything on the following list:

  • coral - including jewellery and ornaments
  • queen conch shells - including jewellery and ornaments
  • many species of orchids and cacti
  • most reptile-skin products, including handbags, purses and shoes
  • caviar in amounts over 125g

Export permits

Before issuing an import permit, Animal Health will check that you have an export permit from the country in which you bought the goods. You must have both documents before you can bring the goods into the EU.

A reputable dealer who trades in protected species should be able to advise you on local rules about export licences.

Who to contact for advice

Your first step should be to check whether trade in a particular species or item is regulated or prohibited under CITES. To do this, contact Animal Health's Wildlife Licensing and Registration Service as follows:

More useful links

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