Tourists blamed for illegal trade in animal parts

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An attractive set of black and white striped drinks coasters, an exotic spiky lampshade and a hairbrush with a polished brown handle are just some of the items that anyone might be tempted to pick up while on a holiday abroad.

In fact, the coasters are made from zebra skin, the lampshade's exoticism comes from the quills of a porcupine and the hairbrush has a handle once part of a sea turtle - all animals either protected from, or threatened by, the boom in the trade in souvenirs made from wildlife.

Trinkets and jewellery made from elephant ivory, rhino horn, animal teeth and claws as well as clothing and accessories made from big cat skins and reptile skins are among the items bought in markets and curio shops and brought home.

A survey published yesterday suggests that international legislation has failed to stem the numbers of animals being slaughtered to service the trade, with more than 600,000 Britons alone returning from holidays in the past five years with such souvenirs. Now the British travel industry is backing the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) in a campaign to halt the trade.

The survey revealed that 26 per cent of travellers had seen animal items for sale and 7 per cent had purchased at least one of them. Ifaw estimated that this represented 1.5 per cent of all those who travelled abroad in the past five years - 600,000 across the UK. The most commonly spotted items for sale were coral (16 per cent), reptile skin items (14 per cent), animal teeth, claws or jaws (12 per cent), elephant-related items (8 per cent) and sea turtle shells (5 per cent).

Robbie Marsland, from Ifaw, said: "If 600,000 British tourists are bringing back parts of dead animals as souvenirs, think how many millions must be dying internationally. It's far better to buy alternative mementoes, such as local handicrafts instead of items that harm the very animals that people have travelled so far to see."

Ifaw is concerned that tourists are confused by regulations governing the sale of such items, many of which require export or import licences under the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites). Tourists often believe that if something is on sale openly, it is acceptable to buy it and take it out of the country, said Ifaw. Many do not bother to check on the regulations and omit to declare their purchases on return.

Rosa Hill, who conducted an investigation for Ifaw in South Africa, said: "In South Africa it is not illegal to sell some elephant ivory items, but it is illegal to bring them into Britain. There are no regulations governing porcupine quills, but the vast numbers on sale suggests porcupines are being killed in their thousands to feed the market." She added: "Tourists don't know that certain licences are needed or are often given the wrong advice. In one market in Cape Town, we were told that it was acceptable to sell anything as long as it did not have a head attached, which is patently untrue."

Keith Richards, from the Association of British Travel Agents, said the organisation would brief its members on the issue. "Unless the travel industry acts now some of the very animals so many people go abroad to see may soon only be found on our mantelpieces or in our jewellery boxes," he said.

Souvenirs to avoid

* Decorative items derived from coral. Most species of coral are protected under Cites.

* Handbags, shoes, watch straps, belts, clothes or accessories from reptile skins. Many species are protected and it is difficult to distinguish them from non-protected species.

* Ornaments, jewellery and "trophies" made from sharks' teeth or jaws. Although onlywhale, basking and great white sharks are protected, there is a global decline.

* Jewellery, hair slides, brushes and pins made from elephant ivory. Their import into the United Kingdom is illegal.

* Glass frames, brush handles or jewellery made from "bekko" or tortoise shell. Tortoise shell usually means the shell of sea turtles, most of which are endangered.