Don’t Buy Wild: Products, food & exotic pets

Humane Society International

It is likely that when traveling, you will want to purchase unique items or sample local/exotic cuisine to enhance your experience and create lasting memories. It is important to be well-informed so that your choices do not harm wildlife.

Products & souvenirs

Before you purchase that souvenir, stop to consider its composition and origin. Was it made from an animal product such as ivory, bone, shell, or fur? If so, an animal died—probably many animals—to make the many copies of that knickknack to be sold to tourists like you. Consider also that trade in products such as coral may involve destruction of habitat and threaten ecosystems. These products are natural resources and their removal is harmful to wilderness areas. Both animals and the environment will benefit if travelers refuse to purchase such items.


Coral reefs comprise only a small part of the marine environment, yet are home to more than 25 percent of the world’s ocean fish and are among the most biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth. Collection of corals for the aquarium and jewelry industries typically targets rare, slow-growing, long-lived animals. Overharvest can cause localized destruction of reefs, increased erosion, and loss of habitat. It is estimated that around 1.5 million live stony corals, 4 million pounds of dead coral, hundreds of thousands of other invertebrates, and 65-110 thousand pounds of red and black coral are imported into the U.S. alone every year. The global trade volume is unknown.

According to a 2011 World Resources Institute analysis, human activities have put some 75 percent of the world’s coral reefs at risk. Many have been damaged beyond recovery. A global survey found that 90 percent of reefs were missing species of high value to international trade. The corals are collected by dragging iron bars along the ocean floor, wiping out entire eco-communities. The pattern of exploitation is clear: new, untouched coral beds are found and wiped out by collectors who leave a trail of destruction in their path. Check out our TankWatch mobile app to help lessen your impact.


HSI/HSUS investigations have found that real fur can be disguised as fake through use of dye or cutting/shaving techniques, or it may be used as a trim. It may also be mislabeled as fake or not labeled at all.

Trapping inflicts great pain and anguish, both to the target animals and to unintended victims such as pets and endangered species. The pelts of many species are made into full-length coats, linings in boots and gloves, figurines, pompons on sweaters, hair bows, and products allegedto relieve arthritis. This merchandise is sold all over the world.

Although sale of cat and dog fur is now illegal in the U.S. and the European Union, it can still be sold in other countries, often mislabeled with names such as gae wolf, sobaki, or Asian jackal for dog products and wildcat, goyangi, and katzenfelle for cat products.


Buying and selling ivory drives the poaching of elephants. Objects are sold mostly in the form of carvings, but also as jewelry, unworked pieces, piano keys, hunting trophies, and individual tusks.

International trade in Asian elephant ivory was banned in 1975. CITES then tried and failed to regulate and control the ivory trade. By 1989, when CITES finally banned international trade in ivory from African elephants, it was estimated that 90 percent of ivory in the so-called legal trade was from poached sources. It was clear that permitting ivory trade was a death sentence for elephants. Individual nations passed laws to implement that ban.

In the U.S., only antique ivory can be bought and sold. However, a border agent faced with a shipment of ivory cannot tell by sight if that ivory is antique or if it comes from an elephant versus a mammoth whose ivory may be legally traded. Fraudulent paperwork adds to the confusion.

Leathers and skins

Watch bands, shoes, bags, belts, wallets and other exotic leather items are found in tourist shops, even in places where there may be laws against selling products of endangered species. Retailers will often tell customers what they want to hear , claiming that the animal was humanely caught and killed, or that it is legal to take the item home. Additionally, many leather objects may not be properly labeled and it is not always obvious that the item is made from an exotic or endangered animal.

Be on the lookout for leather articles that could be made from elephant, lizard, kangaroo or snake skin, or even from sharks, rays or sea turtles. These animals may have been wild-caught and illegally traded, or farmed in inhumane conditions.

Traditional Chinese medicine

Throughout Asia, you may come across exotic potions or salves referred to as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Despite claims that they can aid in sexual potency or cure certain illnesses, these animal-derived medications are rarely tested by scientists and evidence of their success is limited. Unfortunately many wild animals used in these products are in danger of extinction. Animal parts used in TCM such as rhino horn and tiger penis are extremely valuable on the black market, and demand for them drives poaching.

Bear bile is a form of TCM that involves long-term inhumane treatment of thousands of bears. The Asiatic black bear, listed as threatened by the IUCN, is the species most commonly used. Taken from the wild, these bears spend the remainder of their lives in tiny, barren cages where their bile is periodically extracted from their gall bladders using a syringe. It is estimated that around 12,000 bears are in captivity all across Asia because people believe that their bile can treat fever, liver conditions, and poor eyesight.

Avoid purchasing TCM medicinal products unless you are absolutely sure that they do not contain any animal parts. Instead, look for synthetic or herbal alternatives.

Turtle shells

For centuries, hawksbill sea turtles were killed for their beautiful mottled “tortoise” shells, which were used to make jewelry, decorative combs and hairpins, forks and spoons, and statuettes. The hawksbill population crashed, and has never recovered. Since 1975, hawksbill sea turtles have been fully protected from international trade by CITES (aside from an exception to this rule which allowed Japan to trade in hawksbill shells until 1993). Regardless, many hawksbills are still killed, and products made from hawksbill shells are still sold in tourist markets worldwide.

Food items & dishes

You may have traveled only as far as your corner restaurant, or you may be dining in an eatery halfway around the world. However far you have roamed for your meal, you can make choices that affect wild animals.

There is a growing trend in fashionable restaurants: exotic fare. Lions, monkeys, turtles, sharks, frogs and snakes are only a few of the species that may appear on global menus. In some cases, restaurants are offering species on the brink of extinction because of overhunting or overfishing. Even if they aren’t rare, their capture may have damaged habitat. And in many cases, individual animals have suffered in captivity prior to being killed for food. Avoid frequenting establishments that advertise and serve these dishes and be sure to let these restaurants know why you have chosen not to patronize them.


Bushmeat is meat from terrestrial wild animals found generally in tropical areas like South America, Asia and Africa. Wildlife is killed for subsistence purposes but also for commercial trade. The meat may be exported to countries where people value exotic food such as monkey limbs or tiger paws as delicacies. All kinds of wildlife are killed for their meat, including threatened and endangered species. Elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees, antelopes, crocodiles, porcupines, bush pigs, tigers, hippos, lions, leopards, kangaroos and more are all victims of the bushmeat trade.

Primates make up only a small percentage of the bushmeat trade, but the effect on their already vulnerable populations is devastating. Additionally, the use of wire snares to capture wildlife is widespread, especially in Africa. Snares are incredibly painful and can also kill non-target wildlife. Not only is bushmeat inhumane and harmful to wildlife populations, but it is harmful to humans as well since the hunting, butchering and eating of bushmeat puts people at an increased risk of contracting zoonotic diseases.

It may be difficult to figure out what is on the menu if you are traveling in a foreign country, but if it seems exotic, make sure to ask questions or simply avoid it altogether.

Shark fin soup

Every year, tens of millions of sharks are hunted to meet the demand for shark fin soup, a cruel and wasteful “luxury” dish. After their fins are removed, the animals are thrown back into the water to die slowly and painfully. Finning is not only inhumane; it allows sharks to be caught in unsustainable numbers. Curbing the demand is the best way to stop finning—do not purchase or consume products made with shark fins.

Whale and dolphin meat

A handful of countries still kill thousands of whales and dolphins annually, despite international protests. While some of the hunts are done under the guise of ”research,“ the meat still ends up for sale in markets. Not only are the killing methods inhumane and many of the quotas unsustainable, meat from many of these species is contaminated with mercury and other toxins and therefore unhealthy for human consumption. Countries where you are likely to find whale and dolphin meat for sale include Iceland, Norway, Greenland, Japan, Korea and the Philippines, and even some Caribbean islands, such as Bequia.

Exotic pets

Each year, millions of animals are captured from the wild and sold in the international live wildlife trade. The commercial uses of these animals include the exotic pet trade, biomedical research and teaching, and stocking of public or private game farms and hunting ranches. The trade in live wildlife results in the injury and death of a large percentage of the animals captured. Mortality rates vary depending on the type of animal, the country of origin, the capture and transport techniques used, and—ultimately—the ability of the species to withstand extreme physical and psychological trauma and adapt to a captive environment. The trade in live animals represents depleted wild populations, damaged habitats and the suffering of countless animals. Do not be tempted to contribute to demand by purchasing a wild creature that is being sold as a pet – even if you want to “save” him. He will only be replaced with another animal.

To download a simplified and portable version of our Don’t Buy Wild Guide, click here. [PDF]

Learn More Button Inserter