Selfies with Animals
Animal exploitation has become a growing concern among animal advocates with the increased use of social media to share life experiences. Through this lens, issues have come to light regarding how we photograph and interact with animals. Consider that 40% of selfies taken with animals on Instagram have been labeled as “bad” in regards to how they affect animals and in what conditions these animals are kept. Factors such as being out of their natural environment, malnourishment, or abuse have been observed among the many animal selfies around the web. Many people encounter these opportunities while they’re traveling, sometimes under the guise of wildlife tourism, and may not realize that the animal is being mistreated.
Within South America for example, anteaters, sloths, blue macaws and other native species are used as attractions for visitors, often being fed foods not in their ordinary diets. As consumers and animal advocates, being aware of what is appropriate is important to curbing animal cruelty and mistreatment. Types of abuse documented by animal non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are malnourishment, physical abuse, forced breeding, and animal trafficking. Many times it is simply that we are unaware and not able to recognize these signs. Taking pictures with animals to help keep that memory alive is an understandable desire, but we must care for our environment and its creatures before thinking of social media likes! For instance, rock squirrels at the Grand Canyon in Arizona are known to be aggressive towards hikers who are pointing at them or taking pictures, and some are biting tourists in the process. Other animals that have reportedly attacked photo-takers are bison, rattlesnakes, and bears.Taking selfies with wild animals can be dangerous to yourself or the animal, and many of the animals that are of prime target are ones who are are becoming or already are endangered species, such as: ocelots, manatees, and seals.. As recently as 2017, two dolphins died due to stress related to a swarm of selfie-takers – in one instance literally dragging a beached dolphin inland, and a year prior 147 tigers were confiscated from the famous Tiger Temple in Thailand due to mistreatment. This issue remains prevalent which makes it even more important to take into consideration the impacts our picture-taking habits have on animals.
Many of the egregious animal selfies have things in common: the animal is taken from the natural environment, in captivity, or being held by someone. While regulations have started to develop around the practice of taking animal images, one of the best things to do is avoid companies that seem to use animals only for their own gain. Visiting animals in their native and natural environment is imperative to ensuring the safety of these animals and helps curb issues like wildlife poaching. Avoid the temptation to participate in wildlife encounters that offer up close and personal experiences with exotic animals, these are often signs that the animal has been mistreated in some way, whether it is captivity or separating them from their parents. Not to mention, byproducts of these sought-after animals are also exploited, items like shark fin soup or tiger bone used for jewelry are procured through inhumane methods like illegal breeding, which should also be taken into account when participating in animal activities. Demand reduction is one surefire strategy that everyone has the power to contribute to.
Getting that animal photo can still happen, however. It’s ideal to venture out with a guide who is familiar with the animal’s behavior, habitat, and physical needs for distance. Keeping a safe distance from wild animals is key, for you and for the animal. Any movement that could affect the animals behavior should be avoided and you should silence any noise-making electronics. Most cameras are equipped with zoom, which can be used to keep a safe distance from the animal. In general, it’s safe to assume that touching or chasing after any wild animal is doing them harm, so be cautious and respectful when inhabiting their space.
If planning an excursion and unsure where to start – look for a reputable wildlife tourism organization or tour operator. Researching them and inquiring on their practices can be insightful to help make decisions on the wildlife experience that works best for you and the animals!
Sources: Arizona Central, CBC news, The Conversation, Cottage Life, The DoDo, Duggal.com, The Guardian, Green Global Travel, NBC News, National Geographic, Tourism Review