Olympic Buyers Beware Restricted Souvenirs

U.S. citizens traveling to China for the Olympic Games are reminded that U.S. wildlife laws and international treaties limit the types of items they can buy and bring home.

"Just because you find something for sale overseas doesn't mean you can import it," said Benito Perez, chief of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement. "Some products made from wildlife are illegal to import while others may require permits.

"By making informed choices, travelers can support conservation and avoid having their souvenirs confiscated at the airport," Perez said.

The United States, China, and most other countries protect their native animals and plants under national laws and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Signed by more than 160 nations, this treaty supports sustainable trade in wildlife and plants while safeguarding endangered species. In many cases, U.S. laws provide even stronger protections.

The United States, for example, generally prohibits the importation of elephant ivory. Goods subject to seizure would include ivory carvings, jewelry, and figurines as well as raw and carved tusks.

Products made from sea turtle (such as tortoiseshell jewelry and items with tortoiseshell inlay) are prohibited as are big cat skins and furs.

Restricted goods also include traditional medicines made from or parts of tiger, rhinoceros, leopard, Asiatic black bear, musk deer, pangolin, and seahorse.

"CITES regulates trade worldwide in more than 30,000 different animal and plant species," Perez said. "Travelers need to ask questions and check trade restrictions before they buy."

Travelers returning to the United States must indicate on their Customs declaration form whether they are bringing back any wildlife or wildlife products acquired abroad. Additional requirements apply if the species is protected under CITES or is a live animal or if they are importing eight or more of any item.

More information about U.S. requirements for wildlife imports can be found under the "International Travelers" and "Importers/Exporters" tabs on the Office of Law Enforcement's Web site at http://www.fws.gov/le/ or by contacting a Service wildlife inspection office (http://www.fws.gov/le/ImpExp/inspectors.htm).