World Animal Protection uncovered some dark truths behind those adorable exotic animal selfies you’ve seen on social media.
A recent report by the international charity shows that the rise in wildlife entertainment tourism in the Amazon is leading to the “suffering and exploitation” of some of the world’s most beloved animals, all in name of selfies.
The demand for eye-catching animal selfies that can be shared on social media has led tour operators in Latin American gateway cities — like Manaus, Brazil, and Puerto Alegria, Peru — to illegally remove animals, some of which are considered threatened species, from the wild and use them as props to please tourists. Under the care of tour operators, these animals, which include sloths, toucans, anteaters and more, are neglected, mishandled, abused and kept in horrible conditions.
World Animal Protection’s investigation found evidence of sloths being tied to trees with rope to keep them in place for photos, cruelty that usually kills the innocent animals in six months. Toucans observed in the care of tour operators were found with abscesses on their feet, while anacondas were found injured and dehydrated. Investigators often found that the accommodations these stolen animals were kept in were cruel, as well; they reported seeing ocelots kept in barren cages and manatees stuffed in tiny tanks.
This is just a handful of the horrible neglect that World Animal Protection found during its in-depth look at the wildlife tourism market in the Amazon.
The increase in animal abuse is linked to that rise in social media selfies. Between 2014 and today, the number of wildlife selfies on Instagram has increased by 292 percent, with 27 percent of these selfies being posted by American users. Some of the selfies posted are considered “good selfies,” shots that show an individual encountering an unrestrained animal in the wild at a safe distance, but the majority were “bad selfies” — shots which showed tourists mishandling an animal.
“The wildlife selfie craze is a worldwide phenomenon fueled by tourists, many of whom are unaware of the abhorrent conditions and terrible treatment wild animals may endure to provide that special souvenir photo,” Steve McIvor, CEO at World Animal Protection, said in a statement. “Behind the scenes, wild animals are being taken from their mothers as babies and secretly kept in filthy, cramped conditions or repeatedly baited with food, causing severe psychological trauma.”
World Animal Protection hopes by raising awareness about this dangerous trend, tourists will opt to avoid bad wildlife selfies, and put an end to this abusive arm of wildlife tourism.
To encourage this change, the charity is urging relevant governments to enforce animal protection laws on travel companies and make sure they pay the price for breaking these laws. World Animal Protection also launched Wildlife Not Entertainers in 2015. A program dedicated to moving the wildlife tourism industry away from cruel practices, Wildlife Not Entertainers has already gotten TripAdvisor to stop selling tickets to some of the most abusive animal experiences.
Others can get involved in their mission by signing the Wildlife Selfie Code, a promise to follow certain do’s and don’ts when encountering wildlife while on vacation. Actions include: avoiding photo opportunities where you are allowed to handle the animal, never capturing an animal for a photo and never luring animals with food for a photo.
Through these changes, World Animal Protection hopes to save the precious animals of the Amazon from further neglect and mistreatment.