Take only memories, leave only footprints

Action: Think carefully about the souvenirs you buy

Many tourist souvenirs cause environmental damage and could even be illegal

We all love to bring home a nice souvenir of a special trip abroad. However, please take care to ensure that your souvenir is not part of a trade that is destroying wildlife or habitats, resulting in unnecessary carbon emissions, or adding to our plastic problem.

Some souvenirs are illegal (and you may not even realise it) resulting in substantial fines and even jail time when crossing some borders.

Carbon and plastic have been covered a-plenty on this site, so lets have a specific look at the danger to our flora and fauna.

Endangered species

Rules around taking souvenir items out of a country are often in place to protect endangered species.

What price your souvenir? What might look like an innocent ornament or a delicious snack may well turn out to be made from an endangered species.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is a world body which regulates the trade of over 33,000 species of endangered animals and plants through the issue of permits and certificates. In the UK, for example, it is the Animal Health Wildlife Licensing Registration Service who issue CITES permits.

These are just a few examples of some items to avoid:

  • Ivory: buying and selling ivory is illegal
  • Chinese medicines: it may be that some contain tiger, rhino or leopard parts
  • Sea turtle shells: in the tropics shells are made into jewellery, combs and glasses frames
  • Shahtoosh is a type of shawl made from the hair of the Tibetan antelope (Chiru), killed for its fur
  • Coral
  • Queen conch shells (pictured)
  • Most species of orchids and cacti
  • Reptile-skin products
  • … there are many more
Queen conch shell

The safest advice is that if there is any doubt about the sustainability or ethics of a souvenir, bring home photos and memories only!

Other issues

As well as endangered species, other things to be wary of are

  • most food products, especially meat
  • shells and skins
  • fossils
  • historical items
  • even, in some places, stones, sand and soil .. removing it contributes to erosion and habitat destruction

What make good souvenirs

Better things to bring back with you can include:

  • photographs, videos and memories!
  • books
  • artwork (with care about the material used)
  • clothing (except fur, and with care about ethical manufacturing)
  • wooden toys and gifts (if from a sustainable species)
  • genuine local crafts (but with care about the materials used)

Take action

Next time you travel abroad, please think twice about that souvenir:

  • is is ethical?
  • is it sustainable?
  • is it legal?

And, if you haven’t already, please sign up for our fortnightly bulletin “Take Action” using the form below, and give us a mention on your social media … thank you for your support.

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