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Tips for Responsible Tourists & Visitors

Staff Writer Tourism Authority of Thailand 15.07.2010 02:54

What not to buy or take home with you.

Bangkok and Pattaya are a shopper’s paradise. An outstanding variety of products, appealing to a huge diversity of tastes (and budgets) are available. Visitors are truly spoiled for choice.

Amongst the vast array of things you could buy you are also likely to come across products made from parts of wild animals or plants. Most of these (such as crocodile skin bags and belts) will have been legally produced in an appropriate way. However, you are also likely to find some products, such as ivory carvings, the origins of which are questionable.

Visitors need to be mindful of the fact that not everything offered for sale on the streets and in the shops in the city and in well-known tourist destinations is done so legally, as is the case throughout the world. What is illegal can be so commonplace, it appears to be normal and accepted.

There are also items that can be sold legally within the country, but cannot be legally taken out of the country. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of each individual to know what is right and what is wrong according to the law, and to act accordingly.
As a visitor in an unfamiliar setting, this is obviously very confusing, so here are some tips to help you make the right decisions.

What not to buy or take home with you:

■ Ivory: The illegal ivory trade is a serious global problem that is driving the slaughter of elephants in Africa and Asia. Taking ivory out of Thailand is illegal. Taking it into your own country is almost certainly illegal. Despite anything shopkeepers might tell you about where it came from, you should never buy products made from or containing ivory. This includes whole tusks, carvings of various statues, name seals, bracelets, necklaces and rings.

■Hawksbill Turtle Shell: There are five species of marine turtles naturally found in the seas of Thailand both in the Gulf of Thailand and Andaman Sea. All of them are increasingly endangered by the destruction of nesting beaches, entanglement in fishing nets, pollution, and the wildlife trade. Turtle-shell jewelry including bracelets and hair combs is made mostly from the carapace of the hawksbill turtle. All turtles are protected by Thai law and by international law. You may see some turtle shell products, especially at markets, and in high-end shops in shopping centers and malls. It is illegal to buy turtle shell in Thailand, illegal to take it out of the country, and illegal to take it into most countries of the world.

■ Giant Clam and Triton Trumpet Shells: You may think these would look really nice in your home – but they actually look much nicer in their natural habitat underwater, so instead of buying one, why not take a snorkeling or diving trip instead. All giant clam shells and the triton trumpet are protected by law, and it is illegal to buy them, or to take them out of the country.
■ Seahorses: Seahorses are fascinating creatures that mate for life, and have an unusual reproductive system with the male incubating the eggs. Unfortunately large quantities of dried seahorses are traded each year for traditional medicines. Seahorses are now protected by law. You may encounter them in the form of a dried seahorse on a key chain. Buying a product like this is illegal.

■ Tigers and other large cats: Tigers as well as all other Asian large cats (including leopards, clouded leopards, snow leopards, Asian golden cats and others) are all protected by national and international law. Buying tiger skin rugs, tiger skulls, claws, teeth or medicines containing tiger bone is completely illegal. The same is true for similar products from the other large cats.

■ Butterflies and beetles: Only a very few butterflies and beetles are protected by law. Unfortunately, most people do not know which species are protected, and which are not. In many roadside stalls or even in Duty Free shops in the airport, you will see trays of mounted and framed butterflies or other insects for sale. In many cases these are perfectly legal. In some cases a tray of three large butterflies may have two perfectly legal specimens and one protected specimen that shouldn’t be bought or sold. The problem is knowing which is which.

■ Bats: There are well over 100 species of bats in Thailand. Fruit-eating bats play a vital economic role in pollinating important fruit crops such as durian and bananas, while insect-eating bats help to control mosquito populations and other insect pests. Thai wildlife law now protects all bats. You may come across stuffed bats mounted and set in frames. Do not buy them. It is illegal.
Remember, you do have a choice, and if in doubt, it may be better to choose not to buy at all, than to become a victim of illegal wildlife crime and risk the penalties imposed.

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