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Buyer beware: WWF seeks help of British tourists to stamp out illegal wildlife trade 16.08.07

WWF is urging British tourists to be vigilant about buying wildlife souvenirs this summer when travelling abroad.

Coral, elephant ivory carvings, traditional Chinese medicine and snake skin accessories are among the top ten illegal wildlife trade items being brought back to the UK as souvenirs.

Last year, British customs officials confiscated more than 163,000 illegal wildlife trade items, many made from highly endangered species. This included: 158,000 illegal plants such as orchids and cyads; 221 elephant ivory and skin products; and 959 live reptiles such as snakes, chameleons, tortoises and terrapins.

The Top Ten illegal wildlife crime items as seized by British customs officials between 2006-07 were:

1. Traditional Chinese medicine (containing endangered species including tiger, rhino, seahorse, deer musk)

2. Snake and lizard products

3. Alligator/crocodile products

4. Plants (including orchids, cycads and cacti)

5. Live reptiles (including snakes, lizards, chameleons, iguanas, tortoises and terrapins)

6. Caviar (amounts over 250g)

7. Coral

8. Elephant ivory and skin products

9. Queen conch shells

10. Animal skin products or stuffed animals

“Many tourists could be unwittingly helping to push some of the world’s most endangered species to the brink of extinction, all for the sake of an exotic souvenir,” said Heather Sohl, a wildlife trade officer at WWF-UK.

“Although the latest figures indicate that some illegal wildlife trade items are being brought in knowingly by wildlife criminals, the majority of seizures appear to be items innocently brought back by holidaymakers as souvenirs.”

“Our message is ‘if in doubt don’t buy’,” she stressed.

Under the UN’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), 827 species of animals and plants are currently banned from international trade and a further 32,840 strictly controlled. These include many corals, reptiles and orchids as well as the more obvious tigers, rhinos, turtles and elephants.

WWF and TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, are urging people to report anything suspicious to their national wildlife officials that could be linked to illegal wildlife trade in the UK and abroad.

“We need the public’s help to stamp out the illegal wildlife trade, not only to help protect endangered species but the anti poaching officers worldwide who put their lives on the line fighting wildlife crime,” Sohl said.

Peter Shield

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