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June 4, 2010

“Suitcase for Survival” promotes awareness of illegal trade’s threat to species

Nora Smith of Crossett, Ark., recently arranged several wildlife artifacts at the University of Louisiana at Monroe’s Museum of Natural History that, in another person’s hands, might have caught the unwelcome attention of law enforcement.

Smith, a ULM biology graduate student, was handling items in a new museum display that concerns the heavy amount of illegal trade currently threatening several species across the globe.

Known as “Suitcase for Survival,” the display and its associated national program also seek to raise awareness about the impact of illegal trade in diminishing biological diversity throughout the world.

The United States is the world’s largest importer of wildlife, most of which enters the country legally, according to U.S. Fish and Service officials. Unfortunately, some wildlife is imported illegally and the results have been devastating.

“And just because something is for sale in one country, doesn’t mean it is legal to import it into our country,” explained Dr. Neil Douglas, professor emeritus of biology and the museum curator at ULM.

Suitcase for Survival is a partnership among several wildlife organizations with components that build on the strengths of its partners. The partners include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, American Zoo and Aquarium Association, World Wildlife Fund, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - Fisheries Service’s Office for Law Enforcement and with additional assistance from TRAFFIC North America.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sends its confiscated artifacts to a variety of institutions across the country, including the ULM museum. The museum assembles the artifacts into suitcases, which inform the public about laws such as the U.S. Endangered Species Act concerning what travelers can bring home from their trips abroad – and what they cannot.

“We’re one of the few educational museums allowed to take the material confiscated by the Wildlife Service as long as we try to educate the public about what not to do on vacation,” said Douglas, with a smile. “It’s unfortunate, but some people just want a trophy from their travels.”

Since its 1991 inception, the program has raised awareness about the devastation caused by illegal wildlife trade, while helping consumers understand the importance of biodiversity and how their buying habits can contribute to biodiversity conservation.

For more about the display, or scheduling a group tour of the museum, call 318-342-1868 or visit

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