Animal Rights

Tourists, Please Put the Camera Away: Wild Animals Are Suffering for Your Selfies

Animals around the world are being pushed, prodded and baited into being used as photo props for tourists.

Around the world, on any given day, thousands of animals are being cajoled, pushed, prodded and baited into being used as photo props for tourists eager to capture that once-in-a-lifetime moment. Many of these photo seekers genuinely love animals and desire an authentic connection. But the sad truth on the other side of the lens is often a lifetime of suffering and misery for the animal. All too often, to the unsuspecting tourist, the cruelty that makes these wild animals submissive and available is entirely invisible.

Cruel methods are often used to make wild animals submissive enough to pose for tourist selfies. (image: World Animal Protection)

World Animal Protection's recent report, A Close up on Cruelty, exposed the worrisome and increasing trend of the use of wildlife as photo props in Latin America, with our investigation focusing on the Amazon and its iconic wildlife.

The wild animals being used as photo props for wildlife selfies experience a life filled with stress and suffering. They are robbed of their freedom, and constant contact with humans makes their chances of survival back in the wild much harder. Behind the scenes, the harsh reality is that these animals are often beaten into submission, taken from their mothers as babies, and kept in filthy, cramped conditions or repeatedly baited with food.

Many tourists seek out wildlife selfies because they love animals, but don't realize the irreparable harm they cause. (image: World Animal Protection)

Focusing on two cities of the Amazon—Manaus, Brazil and Puerto Alegria, Peru—our new investigative report reveals that local wild animals are being taken from the wild, often illegally. Then they're exploited and injured by irresponsible tour operators to entertain and provide photo opportunities for tourists.

In public view and behind the scenes, our investigators uncovered evidence of cruelty being inflicted on wild animals, including:

  • Sloths captured from the wild, not surviving longer than six months
  • Birds, such as toucans, with severe wounds on their feet
  • Green anacondas injured and dehydrated
  • Caiman crocodiles restrained with rubber bands around their jaws
  • A giant anteater, manhandled and beaten by its owner

We are particularly concerned about the use of sloths in the wildlife selfie trade and the extremely negative impact on their welfare caused by this aspect of the wildlife tourism industry. Several aspects of their biology and behavior make sloths particularly vulnerable to these types of human interactions. Our research suggests most sloths being used for tourist selfies don't survive even six months of this treatment. For an animal who sleeps high up in trees for up to 20 hours a day, and who needs to move in and out of sunshine to regulate body temperature, being passed from one tourist to another all day, every day, is a death sentence.

Most sloths being used for tourist selfies don't survive even six months of this treatment. (image: World Animal Protection)

We recently released shocking video footage of a sloth snatched illegally from the wild, which reveals the true horror behind wildlife selfies. Footage from our undercover investigations shows illegal loggers cutting down a tree holding a sloth, who falls 100 feet to the ground when the tree finally crashes. The loggers force the terrified sloth, who miraculously survives his fall, into a sack, and later sell the animal at Belén market on the outskirts of Iquitos, Peru, for just $13—likely for use in the wildlife selfie or the exotic pet trade.

To protect wild animals, and to create long-term solutions, we need to work alongside local people to ensure their livelihoods are considered. Wildlife tourism, when properly managed, can be good for the environment and wild animals. It can support the protection of natural areas, improve animal welfare and alleviate poverty. But if the activity relies on cruelty to animals, it is not sustainable, or ethical. Offering humane and sustainable alternatives can help to address this issue and in many cases, provides a better life for both animals and people.

As tourists, we should enjoy seeing wild animals in the wild, or the next best place, a sanctuary or rescue center that provides proper protection for animals who survive the cruelty of the tourism industry. Once the reality of how animals are suffering are exposed, most people will choose not to take part in the activity again.

Wild animals forced to submit to tourist photo ops suffer every day, all day. (image: World Animal Protection)

To help expose this hidden cruelty, World Animal Protection recently launched a new Wildlife Selfie Code to inspire tourists to take cruelty-free photos with wild animals, without fueling the cruel wildlife entertainment trade.

Let's commit to keeping wild animals in the wild, where they belong. And when you travel, remember the best way to have an authentic interaction with an animal is to see one in the wild. Make sure you're not posing with an animal who is restrained or captive in a way that is harmful to them. You should never hug, hold or touch a wild animal, and if the attraction you're visiting allows that, it is cruel and unnatural. Vote with your wallet and don't go.

You can help filter the cruelty out of wildlife selfies by signing the Wildlife Selfie Code. Read World Animal Protection's recent report A Close up on Cruelty to find out more.

Watch a video about the cruelty behind wildlife selfies:

Cassandra Koenen is the Global Head of Wildlife Campaigns at World Animal Protection. Follow her on Twitter at @casskoenen.

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