Thoughtless travellers are helping to push endangered plants and animals over the brink to extinction.

Speaking at the Customs and Excise stand at the Destinations Exhibition in London, Paymaster General Dawn Primarolo said:
“We all remember wonderful childhood stories featuring animal characters like rhinos, tigers, gorillas or others. Indeed many of us have read such stories to our own children. Currently there are only about 4,000 tigers left alive in the wild – by the time your children grow up there may be no tigers, rhinos or gorillas left in the wild at all. Not to mention the tens of thousands of other plants and animals that hover on the brink of survival.
“Most of us are concerned about the environment and wonder how we can make a difference. One way is not to buy any tourist souvenirs that are made from endangered plants or animals. If you are in doubt check it out – or simply don’t buy it. Endangered species will not be killed if there is no market for them.
“And please don’t buy any live plants or animals to bring back into Britain. Chances are they won’t survive the journey, and if they do they may well introduce pests or diseases we can do without.”

Notes to Editors

In the 1998/99 financial year Customs and Excise seized 1,573 live animals and birds; 1,702 live plants; 51,675 items made wholly or partly from endangered species; 308 kilograms of caviar; and over 500,000 preparations of oriental medicines (pills, capsules, oils and liquids) derived from endangered species.

The majority of seizures are from ordinary travellers who do not realise that on their holiday they have funded the destruction of vulnerable wildlife. Travellers should check whether their planned purchases are legal with the Department of Environment Transport and the Regions on 0117 987 8691. However the high prices a handful of irresponsible collectors are prepared to pay for some endangered species does attract some commercial smugglers – and the Department is particularly vigilant against such criminals.

The most common souvenirs Customs seize are ivory, coral and handbags made from reptiles. The most common live animals seized are tortoises, some small enough to fit into a matchbox. Other favoured collectibles range from parrots to poison arrow frogs and other exotic species. The Department also regularly seizes stuffed birds and other animals, animal skins, snake skin shoes and belts, and a wide range of other products.

International trade in endangered species is controlled by a United Nations convention – the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species – (CITES) and over 140 countries are signatories. Under CITES regulations international trade is banned for over 800 species of plants and animals, while trade in a further 23,000 is strictly controlled to ensure such trade does not threaten their survival in the wild.

Signatories to the Convention will be meeting in Kenya in April to review current priorities. Contentious issues at the meeting may include moves by certain countries to recommence a limited trade in elephant ivory and some commercial whaling. Customs & Excise will form part of the UK delegation and will be looking to increase awareness of the need to achieve effective enforcement of the controls on species covered by the Convention. In recent years a UK Customs official was seconded to the CITES Secretariat as an enforcement expert with the aim of improving the flow of intelligence between countries regarding the illegal trade.

Anyone who wishes to import animals and plants covered by CITES, or items made from them, must first obtain an import permit from the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions; an export permit from the country of export; and agricultural department health licences may also be required.

For further information travellers should consult our short leaflet, “A Guide For Travellers” available from Customs and Excise advice centres listed under Customs and Excise in the telephone book, or from our website http://

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