How can smarter choices for souvenirs help protect Asia’s endangered wildlife? We teamed up with Animals Asia to create top tips for making wildlife-friendly choices in Asia!


Spend just a few days travelling in Asia, and you’ll soon learn about the “world’s most expensive coffee”. Called ‘kopi luwak’, the story behind this prized bean is an odd one: it’s made from beans that have been eaten and passed by an animal called the civet.

Before the world learned about this strange cup of coffee, farmers would travel into the jungles to collect the remains of coffee beans eaten by wild civets. But once word got out about this rare type of bean, the demand for it skyrocketed. To keep up, otherwise free and wild civets were suddenly captured and kept in cages, and usually fed an unhealthy diet of only coffee tree seeds.

This is just one example of how popular souvenirs sold in Asia can have unintended consequences on local wildlife. Most visitors that buy a bag of ‘kopi luwak’ don’t know about the cruelty behind their brew – and if they did, would opt for a more ethical alternative!

It’s not just kopi luwak with a secret to hide – many of Asia’s top souvenirs are having big impacts on local wildlife. So what is a visitor to Asia to do?

With the right information, making ethical decisions about your purchases is easy. In partnership with Animals Asia, we rounded up the souvenirs that harm local wildlife and their habitats – and the great souvenirs and keepsakes to buy instead.

Help spread the word about wildlife-friendly souvenirs in Asia by sharing the infographic! Scroll down to download or copy the code onto your own blog.

Souvenirs in Asia Do's and Don'ts Wildlife Edition

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine can be a fascinating cultural element to learn about while travelling in Asia – but make sure you have the information you need before you buy.

Some traditional Chinese medicine uses ingredients derived from endangered wildlife, which some falsely believe have a positive impact on health outcomes. These assumptions are not scientifically backed, but the superstition that surrounds them perpetuate the illegal trade and trafficking of Asia’s most endangered species.

Try this instead:

Traditional Chinese medicine uses an incredible 1000 different species of plants and herbal substitutes. If you’re in the market for traditional Chinese medicine, choose those that don’t use ingredients like bear and tiger bile, or ground rhino horn. If you aren’t sure, don’t buy – wait until you can find a seller who can tell you exactly what went into your chosen remedy.

Snake Wine

Just like traditional Chinese medicine, there’s lots of superstition that surrounds snake and animal wine as a remedy for anything from virility to headaches. In order to make most animal wines, however, the animals within the bottle are almost always disposed of in cruel ways. Some snake wine also uses animal parts from endangered species, which perpetuates wildlife trafficking and illegal trade.

Try this instead:

Asia is famous for its ingenious methods for making spirits, and there are plenty of delicious and equally intriguing concoctions that don’t perpetuate animal cruelty. A favorite in Asia is rice wine – made from fermented rice and flavoured with anything from apricot to durian. These are often more potent than their animal counterparts, and the tradition behind them is just as interesting. They make great souvenirs to take home!

Kopi Luwak

The high demand for kopi luwak has created an unethical demand for civet farms, which keep these wild animals in captivity and often with only a diet of coffee seeds. Civets are wild creatures that live in some of Asia’s most beautiful jungles and forests – but there simply aren’t enough of them to meet the demands for kopi luwak.

Try this instead:

Asia is a wonderful region to search for delicious coffee blends – and coffee is a great way to support local farmers who rely on coffee production to feed their families. Worldwide, nearly 530,000 local farmers benefit from the sale of Fair Trade coffee, in Asia is no different. Buying blends that support local farmers in Asia is a wonderful way to taste the culture of your destination – without perpetuating animal cruelty.

Ivory Trinkets and Souvenirs

Though you might not know it when you buy, many small souvenirs and trinkets sold in Asia’s souvenir shops are made using ivory – which comes from endangered elephants. Some souvenir shops even sell trinkets and keepsakes made from elephant skin and other bone. Buying any souvenir made from animal bone means that there’s a very high chance of animal cruelty involved, so skip these trinkets for more sustainable alternatives.

Try this instead:

Asia’s artisans and craftsmen are masters of design, carving and handicrafts. They most often use things like bamboo, coconut shells and even pandan leaves – which are often readily available and left over from food preparation or building.

Instead of ivory or bone trinkets, instead put bamboo, coconut or pandan leaf souvenirs at the top of your list. Not only do these make great, lightweight keepsakes – but they also support the livelihoods of craftsmen and artisans in Asia.

Animals Asia & Buffalo Tours

In 1998, Animals Asia began their long and challenging journey toward a better future for Asia’s bears. But since then, this passionate team of animal welfare advocates have gone well-beyond their initial goal. Nowadays, the organisation plays an integral part in the welfare of many different species in Asia – including wildlife in tourism.

The goal is to change the ways that we think about wildlife as part of our travels – and to give travellers the information they need to make smart, ethical decisions. That goal can only be achieved with the help of a some very important people: you!

Improving the welfare of Asia’s wildlife is a challenge that starts from the ground up. Travellers are integral is making smart and informed choices on the road. The welfare of animals in the wild and in captivity is an issue close to our hearts at Buffalo Tours. So, to help you become an champion for ethical treatment of animals in our destinations, we teamed up with the Animals Asia team to bring you a collection of tips, tricks and helpful infographics to make your next trip more animal friendly.

Let our team of travel experts create a custom itinerary through Asia’s best wildlife destinations. Browse our tours or create a custom tour!

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