Holiday shopping with wildlife in mind

Looking for that special or unique gift for the holidays? By avoiding certain items and carefully sourcing your presents, you can avoid detrimental impacts on the planet's irreplaceable wildlife. It is hard to know which products and foods are from threatened species or unsustainably sourced. WWF helps alert holiday shoppers to the following 'gift buying dos and don'ts' for all types of people in your life.

A hand holding a four-toed hedgehog

For the animal lover

"Exotic" pets

Gifting pets isn’t generally recommended, but if you’re looking for a companion beyond a typical rescue cat or dog, be sure to do your research. Ensure that the animal isn’t a threatened species, is suited for life in captivity, that you’re able to meet their needs, is legal to own where you live, and won’t cause you or your family physical harm. Check out WWF’s Exotic Pet Suitability Guide to help you walk through this process. It’s important to remember that exotic pets can be a lifetime commitment, so be sure you’re ready for this responsibility even after the holiday decorations come down!

For the epicure

Wild-sourced beluga caviar
Black caviar is evocative of luxury because it is so rare and expensive but be aware that the beluga sturgeon of the Caspian Sea is facing extinction due to unsustainable and illegal plunder for their roe. Wild-sourced beluga caviar has been banned from import into the US since 2005, and sales of wild-sourced beluga in the US are illegal. There are other types of caviar that are legal to buy but be sure you know what type it is and where it came from.

For the collector

Elephant ivory or rhino horn trinkets, carvings, or art pieces
The poaching of elephants and illegal trade in elephant ivory is a continuing problem worldwide. The existence of illicit ivory markets remains one of the greatest threats to elephants today, particularly in West and Central Africa. Few rhinos survive outside of reserves today due to persistent poaching and habitat loss over decades. Do not buy these products and help us shut down this illegal trade online by reporting suspicious content through our Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online.

For the fashionista

Shawls and scarves made of shahtoosh

The ultrasoft shawls and scarves might seem like the perfect cozy, high-fashion gift, but watch out for shahtoosh, woven from the hair of the endangered Tibetan antelope. Poachers shoot the antelope to obtain the wool; it is not collected from sheared animals or shed as some illegal traders claim. Pashmina shawls are high-quality, legal, alternatives made from a domestic cashmere goat that are hard to tell apart from shahtoosh.

Pangolin or sea turtle leather boots
On the lookout for a more unique leather boot? Be sure to avoid pangolin and sea turtle leather. Pangolins are the most trafficked mammal in the world, with over 1 million animals poached over a 10-year period, while sea turtles are highly threatened with an increasingly grim outlook for their future. Pangolin leather has a unique diamond shape pattern while sea turtle leather has an irregular pattern.

Big cat (tiger, cheetah, jaguar, lion) fur coats and rugs
Owning furs, whether clothing or rugs, is gaining cachet in some social circles. Most big cat populations are under immense pressure from habitat loss and poaching. For example, cheetahs have disappeared from most of the African continent and can now be found inhabiting only 10% of their historic range. International trade of big cat products is prohibited and while some antiques can be acquired legally, it’s just not a good look to be draped in an endangered species, is it?

Big cat teeth and claw jewelry
Some believe that amulets and jewelry made from the teeth or claws of big cats—like tigers, lions, and jaguars—are good luck or give energy or protection to the wearer. However, not only are tigers endangered, with only around 5,500 tigers left in the wild, but all international trade of tiger products is illegal. Avoid that impulse to buy a big cat tooth necklace that you might find online, and look for an alternative made of sustainably sourced or recycled materials.

Sea turtle shell (tortoiseshell) products
In the Pacific, leatherbacks are heading for extinction, and in the Mediterranean, green turtle numbers have plummeted. All international trade in marine turtle products is banned, so avoid those genuine tortoiseshell glasses, hair clips, bracelets, and souvenirs you may see when picking out the perfect accessory. There are many faux alternative tortoiseshell products made of materials crafted from bamboo and recycled plastic (even from skateboards!) that you can turn to instead.

Two young tigers run alongside a riverbank in Nepal

Coral products
Slow-growing and long-living stony corals are collected for jewelry and ornamental purposes, but intensive collection threatens reefs, that are already facing threats of climate change, ocean acidification, and coral bleaching. Precious corals like red, pink, and black corals are often unsustainably or illegally harvested. For example, the red coral from the Mediterranean was popularly used for jewelry but became locally extinct due to overharvesting. It is safest to avoid buying coral while traveling abroad, as most species are protected locally or internationally or may require permits to bring home. If buying at home, ask the retailer if the coral was imported with the necessary permits.

Crocodile and snakeskin leather
If you like those fancy cowboy boots or that little evening bag, be aware that some native wild populations of crocodiles and snakes are in dire straits. While it's likely your belt, bag, or shoes come from legally registered ranches, breeding reptiles for leather products and not wild ones, ask for proof of where it came from before you part with your cash. Crocodile species are protected under international trade laws, requiring permits for the export of their products.

For the plant parent

Cacti and succulents
There are so many different types of succulent plants and cacti, and those you see in bulk at your local grocery or garden center box store are propagated and make great gifts. But there are reasons to be careful with the more unusual species from specialist suppliers because there is a flourishing illegal trade in species dug up from the wild that is harming native populations, in countries like Mexico and South Africa. Some species are protected in their homelands and trade may be banned and some require permits for international trade. Be particularly careful with online ads offering hard-to-find and rare succulents at high prices.

Learn more about making informed choices to protect wildlife.