Real Estate

Endangered decor

By From page HS4 | March 21, 2014

Several months ago I wrote a column about feathers that got readers squawking. I wrote about how they were trending up in fashion and decor. Bird lovers cried, “Fowl!”

And rightly so.

Feathers are beautiful. When they are rendered as a motif in, say, wallpaper, fabric or tableware, they can be exquisite. But when actual feathers from endangered flocks are used in home decor, that is a bird of different color. I found out. That use, my fine-feathered friends, can be at the peril of already threatened birds.

Don’t do it.

When I wrote that column last fall, I had not thought that through. But my dear readers raised their concerns and, as a result, my consciousness.

My consciousness was raised even more last week when I had an eye-opening discussion with Craig Hoover, chief of wildlife trade and conservation for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a federal agency that protects nature. Hoover told me about the impact certain home décor choices have on our planet and its wildlife.

Ladies and gentlemen: After you read the rest of this column, you will not be the same. I’m not.

After talking to Hoover, I felt like a dirt clod in the spring meadow of life. Now, don’t worry. I have not overnight turned into an off-the-grid, tree-hugging, PETA activist vegan with a Greenpeace sticker on her solar-powered Smart car. But I do care about the future of this green spinning sphere upon which we all entirely depend.

So I was all ears when Hoover shared his mission, which is simply to prevent consumers from unwittingly buying home furnishings that harm the wild, a cause for which he needs noisemakers like me — well, he didn’t call me a noisemaker, exactly — to get the word out.

“Most people aren’t thinking about where an item comes from and what impact their purchasing decision has on animal and plant life around the world when they buy home furnishings,” said Hoover.

“So true,” I said. “They’re thinking: ‘That would look awesome on my coffee table. How much is it?’”

“I want to get them to make the connection between the beautiful product in the store and the impact that removing it from the wild has on plants or animals,” he explained.

“As in, if consumers would stop buying ivory, hunters would stop killing elephants just for their tusks,” I add, connecting the dots.

“Anything that creates a demand for products made from endangered species is bad news for that species,” he said.

While I knew about ivory, Hoover shared some other products used in home decor that he — and by extension me — wants you to think about before you buy:

  • Ivory. Often beautifully carved into ornate balls or figures, ivory comes at a steep price to wildlife, usually to elephants, which are killed solely for their tusks. Some ivory also comes from walrus tusks and hippo teeth, said Hoover. Unfortunately, demand for ivory has risen sharply. Last year 35,000 African elephants were killed for their tusks, and more than 60 percent of our forest elephants over the last decade. As a result, Asian elephants are endangered and African elephants are threatened, he said.
  • Coral. In home décor, showy pieces of coral are often on display, but again, at a cost to the planet. Hundreds of thousands of species of fish rely on coral reefs for food and shelter, said Hoover. But, because of the market for coral, the planet’s reefs are shrinking. “Coral grows very slowly,” said Hoover. “A 12-inch piece of branch coral, one of the fastest growing types, grows only an inch a year, so it would take 12 years to replace itself.”
  • Tortoise shell. Sea turtles are endangered because their shells are so highly regarded. Fake tortoise shell is common in eyewear, hair accessories, and handles on flatware because the mottled brown tones look so fabulous. But those opting for items fashioned from real tortoise are contributing to the demise of these reptiles.
  • Rhino horn. Poachers are killing the equivalent of a rhino every 12 hours in South Africa alone just for the animal’s horn. The texture of toenails, rhino horn is mostly sold for unproven medicinal purposes, but some fashion the horns into drinking or “libation” cups, which sell for extraordinarily high prices. “Rhino horn is selling for a higher price per ounce than heroin,” said Hoover.
  • Orchids. I never would have thought that buying these graceful flowering plants could threaten our already at-risk rain forests. However, that’s where many orchids come from, said Hoover, who encourages those who want to adorn their homes with these tropical flowers — and that includes me — to ask where the plants came from before buying. If they were grown in a hot house nursery, buy them with a clear conscience. “Those mass-produced are conservation neutral,” he said. But those imported from overseas? Likely not.
  • Mahogany. Supplies of mahogany and Brazilian rosewood are not in good shape, and are highly regulated, said Hoover, who wants consumers to know the status of the wood in the furnishings before they purchase. Stick with woods like oak and pine that are  plantation grown and sustainably produced.
  • Feathers. As I learned the hard way, decades ago women’s fashion, specifically millinery, which adorned hats with assorted exotic feathers, created a run on rare birds, driving many toward extinction. Strict laws arose to protect more than 1,000 species of migratory birds, said Hoover, who, once again, wants consumers to ask informed questions before making a feather purchase. Ask what kind of feathers are on the object and where did they come from. If from wild birds, that’s not OK and likely illegal; if they came from birds in captive breeding, they are conservation neutral.

Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through

Marni Jameson

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