Image: photo by author
The fellow next to you on the plane is behaving strangely. Does it seem that he is protecting a belt that is producing an evident thickness around his waist? You remember the last time you observed a similar anomaly, when the Pringles-addict across from you on the train kept checking the chips supply, which appeared to be peeping regularly. If your thoughts turn immediately to terrorism, you would be wrong: there is another explanation. But this one is a real threat to your homeland security too.IFAW presents the issue from a comedic aspect, but at the International Tourism Convention (ITB) in Berlin, the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation(Bundesamt für Naturschutz) presented the horrific trafficking in live and poached animals that continues unabated even in these enlightened times. In front of a rolling video which showed people wearing turtle-egg vests under their travel clothing or colorful parrots suffering miserably inside of the iconic Pringles tube, Agent Franz Böhrer confirmed that the statistics on illegal import of endangered species have not reduced over the years. His agency continues to respond to 1000-1500 calls per year. Penalties of up to five years in prison apparently are not sufficiently deterrent.
The violators fall into three categories: tourists, collectors and commercial interests. We assume that no one reading these pages would ever think to further threaten endangered species or import invasive species for a collection or for profit. But do you know how to avoid trouble on your holidays?
Some key tips were presented in pamphlets and posters at the ITB booth. Tourists caught in violation of the law could have avoided their error if they followed some simple rules:
- Everybody knows ivory is taboo, but what about jewelry made from elephant hair, or products which look like ivory but the vendor insists come from teeth of other animals? When in doubt, leave without. Most of the animals from which ivory-like products can be harvested are also protected species.
- Products made from the leather of crocodiles or other reptiles is a tricky area. Many of these products are made from farmed animals, and the law does allow a limited number of reptile leather products to be imported for personal use. But most large snakes, wild crocs, chameleons and other such sources of the structured, robust leather are endangered. If you have prioritized a leather bag over PETA’s protests, be sure to buy only from sources you can trust.
- Beach mementos are a favorite among tourists. But the most beautiful seashore finds are the still living species. You can help protect sensitive aquatic environments by leaving corels, creatures in their stunning sea shells and other marine life alone. Take only memories, leave only ripples.
- Watch out for homeopathic medicines or teas which may contain, or even advertise the content of, organs from endangered species. There are other reasons than protection of nature to leave these products on the shelf: control of the ingredients of such products is often weak, especially because many such pseudo-medicinals are sold under exemption from the laws that strictly control drugs and food or drink. You may put yourself on the endangered list with your purchase.
More on Protecting Endangered Species
CITES, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (English)
Bundesamt für Naturschutz (German)