Airport exhibit spotlights prohibited imports

By Maria-Jose Subiria


Annie Knape, a passenger at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, was recently waiting for a flight to Raleigh, N.C., when she decided to venture to Concourse E.

As she walked through the international concourse, she noticed display cases containing items made from exotic animals.

"Are people really bringing these items through?" Knape asked.

The items on display are part of a rotating exhibit throughout Concourse E at Atlanta's airport entitled, "Buyer Beware!" The items will be on display through late 2010, according to Katy Malone, senior planning and development assistant for the Airport Art Program at Hartsfield-Jackson.

The exhibit, which has been in place since Sept. 1, 2007, was created through a partnership between the Airport Art Program and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to educate passengers about the variety of illegal items made from protected species of different countries, according to Tom MacKenzie, media relations specialist and Native American liaison for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region.

"It's interesting and informative," Malone said of the exhibit. "Many passengers aren't aware that bringing certain plant or animal by-products into the United States is illegal, often because the species exploited are endangered. The exhibit gives them a sense of what those items may be and will hopefully dissuade people from buying them during their travels."

The majority of the natural items on display are illegal wildlife products, crafts and souvenirs, manufactured from protected species and confiscated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Hartsfield-Jackson, MacKenzie said.

In addition, some items were provided by the National Eagle Repository, which is operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MacKenzie added.

Generally, items such as those in the exhibit are seized when people either bring them illegally, or don't have their country's proper legal paperwork permitting them to bring certain wildlife products to the U.S., he explained.

"The animals ... are protected by the country where they were taken from," said MacKenzie.

MacKenzie said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), an organization whose goal is to guarantee the international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the species' survival.

"We enforce the laws of other nations," he added. "We confiscate [wildlife products] and charge them with a crime."

MacKenzie said that though the items in the "Buyer Beware" exhibit are interesting to view, "what people don't realize is something gave their life for the art and it wasn't supposed to happen like that."

Hundreds of items, such as an endangered wild brown hyena, crafts made from elephant tusks, and a stool made from an African elephant's foot and zebra skin, are on display, according to MacKenzie.

MacKenzie said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works closely with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, at Hartsfield-Jackson, to ensure that individuals with items made from foreign protected species, to be sold or used illegally, do not enter into the U.S. with those items.


On the net:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: www.fws.gov