Buyer Beware: A guide to shopping smart to protect wildlife and plants

A purple bag made of crocodile skin sits on a white background

You walk into an antique store in New York City and see an intricately carved ivory tusk that the owner describes as “antique.” On a cruise to the Caribbean, you see shelves full of coral jewelry and tortoiseshell accessories. When scrolling through social media you spot a rare bird or tiger cub video, which offers information on how to purchase your own.

Every day, we are faced with conscious 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 a tremendous demand for illegal products made from endangered species. This demand feeds wildlife crime and devastates populations of elephants, sea turtles, rhinos, and tigers, among other species. With online platforms now providing global species at your fingertips, it has never been more important to remain vigilant and ask more questions about the purchases you are making.

Most countries, including the United States, protect their native animals and plants under national laws and through CITES—a treaty signed by 184 nations to support sustainable trade in wildlife and plants while protecting endangered species.

The US 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 US.

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
Senior Director, Wildlife Conservation, WWF-US

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:

Helpful websites: