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CITES - Regulation of international trade in wild animals and plants

Uncontrolled trade in wildlife including parts and derivatives e.g. souvenirs, can be a threat to the survival of animal and plant species. However, if properly managed and regulated, wildlife trade does not necessarily threaten wild species. CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, was established to ensure that international trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. Currently, CITES bans international trade in approx. 900 species of animals and plants (e.g. Tigers, marine turtles, rhinos, which are listed in Appendix I) and controls trade in a further 33 000 species through permits (e.g. corals, cacti, many parrot and reptile species; listed in Appendix II). In the European Union, CITES is implemented through the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations, which are automatically applicable in all EU Member States. CITES only applies to international trade, and therefore it may be legal to sell an animal or plant species inside a country although all international trade is banned.

When do I need a permit?

If you are an EU citizen returning from your holidays abroad you will only be allowed to bring back souvenirs made from animals and plants listed in CITES and the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations if your souvenir:

  • is made from a species that is not included in Annex A of the EU regulations
  • if your souvenir is made of a dead specimen or products
  • is brought back for your own private use and for non-commercial purposes
  • is contained in your personal luggage
  • and you always need an export permit from the country of origin!

For further information see our section on Personal Effects

What happens if I don’t have the right documents?

  • If you do not have the required permits, your wildlife souvenir is likely to be confiscated at the Customs.
  • You may have to pay a fine, the amount of which generally depends on the value of the goods.
  • You may be subjected to a penal prosecution.
  • In some cases, you also risk being arrested.

In the EU, most seizures relating to wildlife concern tourists bringing home souvenirs without permits!

The most commonly seized souvenirs

  • Alligator and crocodile products
  • Queen Conch shells
  • Coral (live or products such as necklaces, earrings and ornaments)
  • Boots, bags, belts, shoes or watchstraps made of snake and lizard skins and leathers
  • Traditional Asian medicines containing Tiger bone, Leopard bone, rhino horn, bear bile and musk
  • Live plants, such as orchids and cacti
  • Shawls of shahtoosh, Leopard skin or Tiger skin coats
  • Turtles & tortoiseshell
  • Elephant ivory and skin products
  • Caviar
  • Live specimens of parrots, birds of prey, scorpions, gibbons and reptiles
  • Woodcarvings made from rare timber species

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The Wildlife Souvenirs Guide

In a number of tourist locations live animals and plants or exotic souvenirs made from their body parts may be offered for sale. If you consider purchasing wildlife souvenirs you should be aware that a number of animal and plant species are subject to international regulations and may require permits. Just because such items are openly displayed for sale does not mean it is legal to buy and bring them home; they may be seized by Customs upon arrival and you could be risking a hefty fine. This Wildlife Souvenir Guide contains examples of the types of wildlife souvenirs you may encounter and provides you with information about the regulations that may apply. However, you should always check with the relevant authorities on whether it is legal to bring a certain wildlife product back with you and whether you will require a permit.

AMAZON REGION (Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, Venezuela)

In all Amazon countries the sale of wild animals (except fish), including their skins, feathers or other parts (claws, skulls, etc.) is illegal even though some of these specimens can be found in local markets and curio shops. In Peru, however, butterflies may be sold. Some species are CITES-listed and also endangered (including jaguar, ocelots, macaws, toucans, etc.), so the best option is not to buy any handicrafts that include parts of wild land animals in the Amazon region, as they may be protected and could be seized by Customs; you may also be fined.

ANDEAN REGION (Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Peru)

You may be tempted to buy some of the region’s famous musical instruments: rain sticks made from cacti, which can, for example, be found in Peru, Chile and Bolivia. Although trade in all cacti species is regulated by CITES and the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations, you can import up to three rain sticks per person into the EU without any additional documents, as “personal effects”. You may require export and import permits for Vicuña garments and in addition, your item should bear the logotype corresponding to the country of origin and the trademark “VICUÑA – [COUNTRY OF ORIGIN]”. The Andean region is also home to many rare timber species so beware of this when you buy carved wooden ornaments. Tagua, or vegetable ivory, can be an alternative souvenir, as it does not require documents and originates in most instances from sustainable sources.


The vast majority of Australia’s wildlife is protected and many items can only be exported with a permit issued by the Australian Department of Environment and Heritage. This includes all live native animals (including birds, reptiles and insects), and wildlife items such as marine shells (e.g. giant clams) and stony corals. Australian authorities impose strict penalties on violators which can include prison sentences. Souvenirs and gifts made from kangaroos can be exported provided that you do not intend to sell, trade, exchange or use them in any other form for commercial purposes.


You will require an export permit for all souvenirs made from stony coral. In some countries, you may find jewellery made of sea turtle shells or black coral for sale. International trade in these species is regulated and in some cases, not allowed - you may risk having these souvenirs seized upon arrival in the EU. Sharks’ teeth, hardwood carvings and ornamental ants may be legal to purchase and to bring home, however for some species you may need permits (e.g. for all cacti and orchids, and for Great White Shark teeth). Note that some orchids are listed in Annex A of the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations and therefore can not be traded except under exceptional circumstances.


Be aware that you will require permits for most products made from snake and lizard skin such as briefcases, handbags and shoes. Traditional Asian medicines can contain parts of wild animal and plant species (e.g. bear, musk, tigers or certain plants) and their sale may either be forbidden, or you may require a permit before you can bring them home. Also, remember that there are very strict controls on taking ivory carvings out of China and into the EU and also that you will need permits for products made of hippo ivory.


India has very strict wildlife protection legislation and the trade and use of native species is strictly regulated. Shahtoosh, the “King of Wools”, comes from the highly endangered Tibetan Antelope “Chiru”. Because of their rarity, shahtoosh shawls can be extremely expensive. Unfortunately, not only the monetary cost of this luxury is high: the Tibetan Antelope has been hunted to the brink of extinction for its wool. You should also be aware that other products such as spotted cat skins, elephant ivory products, reptile leather products, stony corals and turtle shells, are protected in India and banned from export.


The thousands of islands in Indonesia’s large archipelago are home to some of the world’s greatest biodiversity. You may be bewildered by the array of wildlife products offered for sale, but be aware that many of these items are subject to national and international restrictions. You will not be allowed to bring back products made from bear claws, ivory, Tiger or marine turtle shells or curios such as stuffed birds-of-paradise, as international trade in these species is banned. Remember that you may need special permits if you want to take home goods made from reptile or amphibian skin, such as handbags or shoes, and that permits are also required for stony corals and orchids. Note that some orchids are listed in Annex A of the EU Wildlife Trade Regulations, and can therefore can not be traded except under exceptional circumstances.


Kenya prohibits the collection of corals and the export of products made from elephants (ivory), rhinos (horn) and marine turtles (shells, jewellery and combs). In addition, national law also prohibits trade in reptile leather products such as handbags, belts, shoes, watchstraps and briefcases and you will not be allowed to export these products. Although trade is allowed for some wildlife products, you should always check whether a permit is required, especially for the export of plants, insects and shells.


Some butterfly and tarantula species are protected and may require permits to be imported. Also, remember that souvenirs such as stony corals and products made of reptile skin will require permits before you can bring them home, and trade in items from the feathers of hornbills is banned. 


You may find marine shells such as Giant Clams, which actually originate from the South Pacific, as well as seahorses offered for sale in seaside resorts along the Mediterranean. All seahorses require permits for trade to the EU, while Giant Clams are limited to three per person. In some countries, coats made from spotted cat furs may also be offered, as well as jewellery made from marine turtle shell, ivory and other wildlife products and tourists interested in these should remember that international trade in most of these wildlife products is prohibited. 


Mexico strictly regulates the export of its native animal and plant species, such as parrots, reptiles, cacti, palms, cycads and orchids, some of which are rare and endangered in the wild. If you consider buying a pair of cowboy boots, make sure they are not made from the leather of endangered species and beware that you may need permits for bringing reptile leather products home. Also remember that international trade in marine turtle products (e.g. combs, sunglasses, jewellery, etc.) is banned.


Tourists visiting the colourful markets of North Africa may see a range of wildlife products and sometimes live animals and plants offered for sale. For example, musical instruments or fire bellows made of Spur-thighed Tortoises and products made of reptile leather. Remember that several of these souvenirs, as well as live tortoises, chameleons or lizards, will require a permit and some may even be illegal to bring home.


Sea shells may look pretty, but remember they may be protected. Note you will need permits for all stony corals and souvenirs made from reptile skins. Trade in orchids is also restricted in the Philippines.


Products made from marine turtles, such as tortoiseshell jewellery, may be sold as souvenirs, but tourists should be aware that even if labels or advertisements indicate that the turtles were captive-bred, the export of these products is strictly regulated and therefore the items may be confiscated by Customs upon arrival in the EU.


In the Russian live animal markets, especially in Moscow and St. Petersburg, you may find native and exotic species, such as tortoises, snakes, lizards, geckos and parrots, but remember that international trade of these specimens is regulated. Note you are allowed to bring back (for personal consumption) a maximum of 125 grams of caviar per person without any documentation. For larger quantities, you must obtain an export permit and an import permit. Only buy caviar in containers carrying a CITES label.


Exports of animal or plant species indigenous to South Africa, including a vast range of succulent plants, animal skins and curios, require an export permit. In addition, agricultural quarantine restrictions may be imposed on some plants and bird species. Feel free to purchase the splendid array of cut flowers and other curios available at most airports.


Permits are required for the collection, harvest, trade and export of all wildlife, fisheries and forestry products in Tanzania. The export of products made from many threatened species is prohibited, such as rhino, cheetah, cycads and most elephant and leopard products. Exceptions include a limited number of legally hunted leopard and elephant trophies that may be exported. You will need a permit for hippopotamus and warthog tusks, reptile skins such as python and crocodile, zebra and antelope skins, corals, Giant Clams and all other shells, dead or alive, plants including aloes and some hardwoods, and all live animals including insects.


Many orchids grow abundantly in Thailand’s tropical forests. Some orchid species are endangered and international trade in all orchids is regulated. You will need a permit to bring home cut orchid flowers or orchid seedlings in a flask and live orchid plants grown in nurseries. Other wildlife goods offered for sale may include products made of marine turtles, ivory carvings and crocodile skin, many of which are either illegal or require a permit for international trade.


The UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies (Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Montserrat, St Helena and Dependencies, Pitcairn and British Indian Ocean Territory and the Crown Dependencies of Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man) are not regarded as part of the EU for CITES purposes. This means that permits are required for trade in CITES-listed species between them and all countries that are Parties to CITES (including the UK).

For more information about taking wildlife products home from one of the Crown Dependencies or Overseas Territories, contact the relevant authorities (pdf 429KB).


Products made from Black Bear, Brown Bear (including subspecies), Polar Bear, whale, and Sea Otter require permits for international trade. In addition, handicrafts made from marine mammals (including Polar Bear, whale, Sea Otter, Walrus and fur seals) may only be legally purchased and exported if they are authentic handicrafts made by Native American artisans. Feathered handicrafts must not contain migratory bird feathers. Permits are also needed to bring coral products and leather goods made from American Alligator, caiman, and crocodile back to the EU.