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Buyer Beware

You walk into an antique store in New York City and see and intricately carved ivory tusk that the owner describes as “antique.” On a cruise to the Caribbean you see shelves full of coral jewelry and tortoise shell accessories. On a business trip abroad you spy a tin of Russian caviar.

Every day, we are faced with choices about the purchases we make—and those purchases can have a profound impact on wildlife. While many wildlife and plant products are sold legally around the world, there is also tremendous demand for illegal products made from endangered species. This demand feeds wildlife crime and devastates populations of elephants, marine turtles, rhinos and tigers, among other species.

Most countries, including the United States, protect their native animals and plants under national laws and through CITES—a treaty signed by more than 170 nations to support sustainable trade in wildlife and plants while protecting endangered species.

The U.S. provides even stronger protections for animals like marine mammals, elephants, and wild birds. If a country bans the sale or export of a species, it cannot legally be imported into the U.S.

  • Don’t Buy: Ivory, raw and carved

    The illegal trade in elephant ivory has led to a poaching crisis in Africa. Illicit ivory markets remain one of the greatest threats to elephants today. Don’t fuel demand by buying ivory. Avoid raw or carved ivory from the teeth or tusks of elephants, whales, walruses, narwhals, and seals.

  • Don't Buy: Tiger and rhino products

    All international trade of rhino and tiger products, whether used in folk or traditional medicine, as souvenirs or for "good luck" charms, is illegal.

  • Don’t Buy: All sea turtle products/turtle shell

    Six of the seven species of sea turtles are endangered or critically endangered. All international trade in marine turtle products is banned, so avoid those hair clips, bracelets and souvenirs.

  • Don’t Buy: Live monkeys and apes

    Don’t buy a live monkey or ape overseas for a pet. U.S. health laws prohibit such imports. Most primate species are protected, so you should also avoid curios, furs, or meats from these animals.

  • Don’t Buy: Medicinals

    Those made from rhino, tiger, leopard, Asiatic black bear, or musk deer are prohibited.

  • crocodile and snakeskin

    Buy Very Carefully: Crocodile skin and snakeskin products

    While it's likely your belt, bag or shoes comes from captive-bred populations, not wild ones, check that your product has a CITES permit before you part with your cash. Certain leather products, including some made from caiman, crocodiles, lizards and snakes require permits.

  • cavia

    Buy Very Carefully: Caviar

    Without a permit, you may only import up to 125 grams (about 8 ounces) of sturgeon caviar per person per trip, but the caviar of some species like beluga is completely prohibited.

  • coral

    Buy Very Carefully: Coral

    If you plan to bring it home from overseas, make sure you find out if you need a CITES permit. In the U.S., ask the retailer if the coral was imported with the necessary CITES permit.

  • orchids

    Buy Very Carefully: Orchids, cacti and cycads

    Some are prohibited or require permits

  • Scarlet macaw

    Buy Very Carefully: Live birds and wild feathers

    Most live birds, including parrots, macaws, cockatoos, and finches and wild bird feathers and mounted birds require permits.

  • arts and crafts

    Good Choices: Handmade arts and crafts

    Support local communities and artisans by purchasing environmentally friendly items not made from animal or plant products.

Just because you find an item for sale does not mean it is legal to bring it home.

Some products may be made from protected animals or plants and may be illegal to export or import. Other wildlife products may require permits before you can bring them home to the United States. By making informed choices, you can avoid having your souvenir confiscated or paying a fine. You also help diminish the illegal market for species at risk.

“You can help save nature by asking basic questions and getting the facts before you buy something. The best piece of advice I have for you is if you're in doubt, don't buy it.”

Crawford Allan
Director, TRAFFIC North America

Ask these questions before making a purchase:

  • What is this product made of?
  • Where did this product come from?
  • Does the country I’m visiting allow the sale and export of this product?
  • Do I need permits or other documents from this country or the United
    States to bring this item home?

Buying guides to clip and keep:

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