BEFORE YOU SIGN UP!
While ecotour companies have a responsibility to their clients, the environment, and to the people who live in the areas in which they operate, you, as an ecotourist also have responsibilities. To be a responsible (and safe) traveler, please review and abide by the the following information while you are on your expedition (or wherever you may travel!).

ILLEGAL DRUGS
The government of Peru has worked hard to reduce the production of cocaine and other illegal drugs in Peruvian territory. Penalties for drug offenses are severe, and even your embassy won't help you out if you are caught with illegal drugs. At airports, baggage may be searched, and drug dogs routinely check baggage and passengers. Don't attempt to take illegal drugs into (and how stupid would that be!?), or out of Peru, or use illegal drugs while in Peru. It's not worth it!

CONVENTION ON INTERNATIONAL TRADE IN ENDANGERED SPECIES (CITES)
Most countries have ratified the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. This convention prohibits and/or strictly regulates the transport of endangered and threatened plant and animal species (or items made in whole or in part from such species). For instance, ALL wild cats and ALL primates are protected by CITES, including the margay (skull for sale at left) and the monkeys (skulls for sale at right). Both are illegal to possess, purchase, or to transport across international boundaries without CITES permits which are generally issued only for legitimate scientific or educational purposes.

In Iquitos in particular, but also in remote villages, people selling animals or items made from animal parts may approach you. Rural people can legally hunt and use wild animals for their own consumption and for survival needs. In Peru, however, it is illegal to sell or purchase most wildlife or wildlife parts, though enforcement is difficult due to lack of resources. The blame for having such items on the market is a shared blame. Tourists who buy such items encourage vendors to offer them for sale, but vendors (many of whom are struggling to make a living) also help to create the market for illicit wildlife items. The only sure way to stop the slaughter of wild animals for grotesque souvenirs, however, is for people to stop buying them! You came to see the rainforest and its animals. Don't encourage its destruction by buying souvenirs which are not only ethically irresponsible, but which could also land you in legal hot water!

(At left - a rather badly stuffed red-tailed boa constrictor; At right, a knife handle made from a toucan beak and a workable resin)

Many tourist shops and stalls in Iquitos nevertheless offer many items made from animal parts, including from  endangered species. Not only is it illegal to sell or purchase such items, but also to take them across international borders, and to bring them into the USA. Some items may be interesting, well crafted, or grotesquely fascinating. Many of them, upon close inspection, stink however, and may also be infested with insects. Even if you find a well make item made from common unprotected species, buying such items only encourages the needless killing of a much wider array of animals. In particular, do not buy mammal, bird or reptile skulls, items made with cat, monkey, or other mammal fur, snake skins, mammal or reptile teeth, bones or claws, or bird beaks, claws, or feathers. Some items may have parts from 3-4 endangered species! If you examine such items, be sure to tell the vendor (and on-lookers) that you came to the Amazon to see live animals in the wild, not dead ones, and that it is illegal for you to take such objects back to your home country and that even it was legal, you wouldn't buy the item anyway. Vendors will tell you that it is OK to buy the items that they are selling - don't believe it, they are just trying to make a sale!

(At right - earrings decorated with snake vertebrae and with parrot feathers - all illegal, and a half-way competent customs inspector will certainly notice them dangling from your ear-lobes!)

(Below: a chieftain's headdress decorated with blue-and-yellow macaw tail and body feathers. Please note that the model was NOT purchasing or interested in purchasing the headdress! She was helping in the preparation of this webpage!)

Many objects in villages will be decorated with parrot and other feathers. While some come from pet birds, others are from birds shot for food and/or for feathers. Feel free to buy these items, but explain that you do not want them with the feathers, and take the feathers off and return them directly to the vendor. By doing this, you are demonstrating that well crafted items do not need to be decorated with animal parts, and you may be saving the life of an animal at some future date. Taking the feathers off at a later date, while it may keep you out of trouble with customs, will not send a conservation message to the artisan. In the case of the headdress at right, such adornments are a traditional use of feathers by native peoples, much like the use of eagle feathers by First Nations peoples in North America. Such items are used as symbols of authority, and for ceremonial and spiritual reasons. Purchasing such items as souvenirs not only is damaging for the environment, but also demeans and erodes the rich cultural heritage of Amazonian native peoples.

At right: a handbag made from otter skin - one of the sadder items that we've seen for sale in Iquitos.

Below right: a knife handle made from a monkey skull , rhinoceros beetle horns, resin and huayruro seeds (for the eyes) - possibly one of the most grotesque things we've seen offered for sale!)

Items with fish bones, fish scales, or made from dried fish (e.g., dried piranhas), are generally OK to purchase, and legal to take back to North America or Europe. Such items are usually a by-product of fish consumed for food. Items made in whole or part from the giant Arapaima fish (Arapaima gigas) are, however, prohibited from trade by international law, as this is a CITES I species (highly endangered - but from over-fishing for food, not exploitation for souvenirs). If in doubt about a particular item, ask your trip leader! As a general rule, however, leave the animals (and all their miscellaneous parts) in the Amazon where they belong. There are enough attractive souvenir options out there that do not involve dead critters!

LIVE ANIMALS (Reptiles, Amphibians, Mammals, Birds)
Many tourists feel sorry for live animals (like the parrot, baby owls, marmoset and tortoise in the Iquitos market-left) offered for sale as pets or food, and rightly so. Do not, however, purchase animals to release them, no matter how much you might want to do so. Most animals for sale were not captured as adults, but were taken from nests and hand raised, or the mother animal shot (in the case of monkeys and probably for the margay kitten at right) in order to obtain the baby. In consequence, most of these animals are not capable of taking care of themselves in the wild and would soon die. Again, tell people offering live animals that you would rather see the animals free in the wild, and that this is why you came to the Amazon. Even if you purchase and release an animal in front of the vendor, a sale has been made, the vendor has profited, and has an incentive to go catch more animals to sell to the next kind-hearted tourist. You are not doing the animals any favor by buying and releasing them, but instead have directly encouraged the future robbing of nests and shooting of mother animals.

Taking birds, mammals, reptiles or amphibians home is not legal without permits from both Peru and your home country, and without complying with rigorous quarantine regulations. Obtaining permits is a long and expensive process with no assurance that they will be approved. If you wish to go through this process, you are on your own, because quite frankly it is not worth our time and effort to try and help you with them! Again, it is a long, expensive, aggravating and complicated process!  It is best to leave the animals in their natural habitat, both for their health and yours. Many animals like this orange-winged parrot (left) may carry diseases or parasites that pose a threat to domestic animals, or even to humans (psittacosis - a potentially fatal fungal infection of the lungs, for instance).

The temporary holding of live insects, spiders, lizards, frogs and snakes for examination and/or photography is another matter. When we have groups interested in these organisms, the local people often bring them to us, so that we can photograph them and then release them. These animals are fully capable of caring for themselves upon release, and are not as "delicate" as birds and mammals. Reptiles and amphibians regularly go for several days or weeks without eating, for instance. In all cases, we release such animals as soon as possible, and in appropriate habitat for each species (and preferably in the same location in which they were first found).

LIVE ANIMALS (Fish, Invertebrates)
By working through commercial aquarium fish exporters, we are able to obtain the necessary Peruvian permits to export live fish for our fish-collecting and study expeditions. Margarita Tours also has a US Fish & Wildlife Permit for importation of fish into the USA. If the final destination of fish is a country other than the USA, individual trip participants need to obtain the appropriate permit from their own country prior to a trip. Fish trip participants should make inquiries early, as regulations change from year to year. If you are interested in bringing fish back from the Amazon, ask us to send you summary of fish export procedures and costs. Some fish species are not permitted in certain US states or in certain countries due to the possibility that they might become naturalized if released into the wild - trip participants are responsible for knowing the regulations of their home states and countries. It is not generally permitted to bring aquatic invertebrates back to the USA (snails, shrimp, etc.) due to the risk these organisms present for invading aquatic habitats and introducing diseases and parasites. Likewise, amphibians or reptiles cannot be included in shipments of fish. Predatory arthropods (spiders, scorpions, etc.) may be imported into the USA, but individuals will need their own Fish and Wildlife permit (visit the USFWS website).

FRUITS, VEGETABLES, AND OTHER FOOD ITEMS
Without appropriate permits, you are not permitted to bring many food items into the US (or other countries) from abroad. In most countries (including the US), prohibited items include fresh fruits and vegetables, diary products, fish and meats (processed or unprocessed). These regulations are in place to prevent importation of crop pests and animal diseases such as mad cow disease. Help protect agriculture in your home country by not transporting food items. The "Beagle Brigade" at points of entry into the US works to locate food items in arriving passengers baggage. If you don't want a beagle pawing at your luggage, don't bring any food back with you! The exception is canned or other highly processed foods (a box of chocolates, for instance, is not a problem, and can be mailed directly to us upon your return!
).

GOOD THINGS TO BRING BACK!
There is a wide selection of souvenirs and utilitarian items in the Amazon that are legal to buy and to take home, as well as being environmentally and socially friendly. These include the items pictured in this section - items made of plant fibers, wood, seeds and artificial materials.
Paddles are items of daily use that are characteristic of the Amazon and which make great and unique souvenirs. They are carved from the buttress roots of several fast growing Amazon trees, and the tree isn't even cut down for the purpose, but left standing to grow more buttress roots. "Primitive" carvings of people, animals and fish have considerable appeal to many people (right). These carvings are made of balsa wood, a very fast growing second-growth tree, and have the added advantage of being light to carry. Balsa trees (Ochroma lagopus) typically live for only 10-15 years, and reach heights of 30-40' in 3 or 4 years.

Woven items are typically made of palm fibers. Items like hammocks and handbags (left) are very durable and strong, and usually dyed with natural vegetable dyes. Necklaces are also made of palm fiber, and incorporate a variety of seeds, fish bones (from past meals-above left), clay beads, or other items. All souvenirs made from natural materials should be popped in your freezer for 48 hours as soon as you get home. This will ensure that there aren't any insect larvae or other unexpected guests living in seeds or boring through your wood products. Your souvenirs will be protected from damage, and at the same time, you will avoid introducing potential pests to your house and neighborhood. Little piles of sawdust under your souvenirs are not a good thing!

Many other souvenirs are also available. In Iquitos, a number of shops sell wooden bowls and carvings made from bloodwood, a hard wood with a beautiful dark red glow. Bloodwood (Brosimum rubescens) is a member of the fig family, and is relatively common in the Peruvian Amazon. One tree can supply wood sufficient for thousands of handicraft items, and thus brings in substantial needed revenue to the local economy. There are also a number of accomplished artists in and about Iquitos who work with oils, acrylics, and watercolors. Their paintings can be found in various small galleries in Iquitos, and make very attractive gifts and home/office decorations. The oil at left is by Cliver Flores, a young upcoming Iquitos artist - for more of his work, visit http://www.pintoramazonico.com/. As you shop or trade for "responsible" souvenirs in the Amazon, remember that you are supporting the local economy, and providing people with an alternative to clear-cutting of forests or other highly destructive activities. There are treasures to be found, and memories to be made, so shop away!

TRADING ETIQUETTE
We encourage you to trade with local people for handicrafts or items of daily use, and to reward them for services rendered. This is an important contribution to the local economy, and it is fun as well! We do not encourage you, however, to give people items simply because you have them and they do not, even if such items are of little value to yourself. The people of the Amazon are self-reliant, resourceful, and proud. Do not unintentionally demean them by emphasizing differences between what "they" have and what "you" have. We want to foster pride in craftsmanship and culture among the people we visit, not turn them into beggars who expect handouts from tourists or who are ashamed of their rich heritage. We do want you to reward superior craftsmanship by offering more for well-made or original items. Likewise, do reward valued services that are provided by local people. If you are uncertain what is appropriate or fair, ask your tour leaders/guides for advice. Please do not ruin the trading experience of others on future trips by offering items or money far in excess of the value of a handicraft. Suggestions for trading items are found in the Amazon Travel Tips document in the document center

2002-2011 MT Amazon Expeditions

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