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Associated Press

U.S. Authorities Warn Tourists Against Buying Illegal Souvenirs Made From Endangered Species In The Caribbean

Associated Press Writer

October 7, 2003
Copyright ©2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - Tourists could be supporting illegal animal poaching in the Caribbean by buying souvenirs made from endangered species like sea turtles, spotted cats, crocodiles and coral, U.S. wildlife officials said Tuesday.

As the fall tourism season begins, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and World Wildlife Fund have issued a warning and a guide to help U.S. tourists better decide what to buy in the region.

Illegal trade "is wiping out some of the very wildlife and habitat that travelers go to the Caribbean to enjoy," said Leigh Henry of TRAFFIC, the World Wildlife Fund's trade monitoring network.

In some cases, like for spotted cats, erosion of habitat also contributes to the species' diminishing numbers. But for many species of coral and sea turtles, tourists represent a main threat, she said.

A "Buyer Beware" brochure that lists products to avoid was being issued at border crossings and travel agencies, and on the World Wildlife Fund's Web site, officials said.

Some 4 million Americans vacation in the Caribbean each year, and more than 3,500 people are stopped and sometimes fined for bringing back contraband products without permits, which are seized.

Much of the time, they are carrying things like coral jewelry or crocodile-skin watch bands they did not know were illegal, Henry said.

One-third of the Caribbean's plants and animals are endemic to the tropical region, which contains 14 percent of the world's natural coral and six of seven known types of sea turtle, the wildlife fund said.

The rich environment has helped make tourism the region's largest industry, earning $16 billion annually.

Caribbean products to avoid include spotted cat furs, all sea-turtle products, corals and certain species of orchid and cactus.

U.S. authorities each year also confiscate several live monkeys and nearly 200 live birds, including many parrots, macaws, cockatoos and finches. Headdresses or other products made from bird feathers are also suspect.


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