BBC Earth

Avoiding the illegal animal products trade

Be informed

  • There are many wildlife and plant products available around the world including illegal products made from protected species.

  • Asking questions about the products you are looking to buy is a great way to avoid unknowingly purchase an illegal animal product and therefore help support conservation.

  • If travelling abroad it is important to be informed about what you can and can’t bring into a country, as it may be legal in one country but illegal in another. This way you avoid your purchase being confiscated and any fines.


  • Identify if a place you are visiting is associated or known for selling illegal wildlife products and identify what the products are.

  • Understand what these items may look like so you can identify them in the shops. For example tortoiseshell is an illegal animal product, but in Central American and South East Asian countries many vendors still sell real tortoiseshell as jewellery rather than using alternative materials. Here are some simple steps that you can apply to avoid buying the real thing:

  • Ask the vendor what the product is made from.
  • Learn the local names for the animal product. In the example of tortoise shell ‘carey’ pronounced ‘kah-ray’ is the Spanish name for the hawksbill sea turtle.
  • Look at the product to identify what it is. Again, in the example of tortoiseshell, it usually appears a solid dark brown colour, but if you hold it up to the light you’ll see that there are transparent light-coloured areas which are an orange or amber colour and the products are also thin and flexible.

  • These key steps of asking questions and identifying can be applied to various illegal animal products, but if you are ever in doubt, best not to buy.

For more information on other illegal products such as furs, crocodile skins and coral here is a useful link: