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Saving the Earth.

Byline: StephenGuy

MANY years ago seafarers and travellers brought home all kinds of live animals as pets along with their skins and other souvenirs of journeys to distant lands.

This has been outlawed or at least strictly controlled to protect the world's diminishing wildlife - anyone trying to smuggle them home faces tough penalties.

Customs officers enforce the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) regulations. These have been controlling the trade in wild animals and plants since 1975.

More than 30,000 species arS involved although most are plants such as rare orchids and cacti.

Tourists often don't realise that their holiday souvenirs, such as jewellery and clothing, could be made from endangered species. A specialist team at Heathrow Airport tracks the shipment of live animals and finds suitable homes for those illegally imported.

Customs officers also protect us from food products which breach regulations. Illegally imported meat, fish and dairy products can be very unsafe to eat.

Some items such as honeycombs may contain pests that could spread and endanger our own stocks. The cause of the foot and mouth disease outbreak in 2001 was imported infected animal feed. Thousands of animals had to be slaughtered.

As a result, Customs officers now work closely with colleagues in the Department of Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to protect us from infected livestock or foodstuffs.

Exhibits in the Seized gallery at Merseyside Maritime Museum include a pair of mounted Lear's Macaws. A Yorkshire parrot trader was jailed for two-and-a-half years for smuggling these birds.

Named after wildlife and landscape artist Edward Lear who worked for the Earl of Derby at Knowsley, the rare macaw was rediscovered in 1978 and is a critically-endangered species.

Illegal spermaceti candles were made from sperm whale oil - spermaceti was also once used for cosmetics. Seven out of 13 great whale species are still endangered and vulnerable despite decades of protection.

A lamp made from pieces of coral and shells was a tourist souvenir. The removal of shells and stony coral from their natural habitats threatens the entire eco-system.

Nearly 3,000 coral species - including the purple fan coral on display - are listed as endangered. Fan coral is particularly fragile.

The mounted hawksbill turtle illustrates a critically-endangered species whose shells are considered highly attractive in some parts of the tourist trade.

A queen conch shell features a painted beach scene with the words Belize 1981. The importing of conch shells is currently suspended while its rarity is examined after huge numbers were exported as souvenirs.

Another display features pelts and skins from endangered species such as tigers and other big cats seized by Customs.

. Buy the Maritime Tales book (pounds 3.99) at the Merseyside Maritime Museum open seven days a week, admission free, and at bookshops, newsagents and merseyshop.com.

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BANNED; A pair of Lear's Macaws and, inset, other items on display at the Maritime Museum in Liverpool
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jan 30, 2010
Words:485
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