Getting the Perfect Selfie – Spoiler: It Does Not Include Wild Animals

(This is the third post in my Animals, Eco-Tourism and You series. Interested in the ethics of elephant trekking? Check it out here. Want to learn more about the treatment of alligators and crocodiles? Read it here. To read what my project is all about, check out this post)

Did your travels even happen if there’s no photos to show for it?

So many social media platforms today are centered around image sharing in a cool and creative way. Instagram’s sole purpose is photo editing which can be done right on your smartphone. The most popular posts on Tumblr are the image posts, and you’re bound to get more retweets and likes on Twitter if you include an image. Also snapchat, which I’ve never really used except to share bad selfies with one or two friends, is completely photo/video-based. So the competition to take the best picture is fierce – so fierce, in fact, that sometimes people don’t consider the consequences.

When you’ve got a blog reputation to uphold, or you want to subtly brag to your Facebook friends about where you’ve been and what you’ve seen (don’t worry, we’ve all been there!), it’s easy to get carried away with the camera. We need to step back for a minute and think: Are our snap-happy selfies completely cruelty-free?

'Macaca nigra self-portrait' by NBC news, is licensed under public domain.

This kind of selfie is okay! (A macaque stole a photographer’s camera and took pictures herself!)

Where does animal rights come into all this?

It’s simple, really. Everyone’s hiked up a hill at some point in their life, we’ve all seen a tree. What’s next level awesome? Have my social media followers ever seen a tiger? Or a primate, up close? It’s less likely. So who can be blamed for signing up to take a selfie with an exotic wild animal whilst travelling the world? Well, unfortunately, it’s not all fun and games. While an innocent picture to you means nothing, it is costing what should be a wild animal’s freedom and happiness. For an animal lover, it can seem like the best thing in the world to document yourself holding a cute baby monkey or something, but if you really love animals, then you’d be better off avoiding the industry altogether.

What’s the difference between a photo and a selfie?

Let’s briefly dissect the word selfie. What is a selfie? Simply, it is a self-portrait photograph, normally taken with your phone or with the aid of a selfie stick. It’s taken of yourself, or of you and a group of friends. The whole point of selfies is to reinforce positive thoughts about yourself as you snap a photo at a flattering angle. Selfies are about you. For that split second, as you take the picture, anything that you’re posing with becomes a prop. The value and worth of the animal in the photo goes from a living, feeling creature, to an object that looks cute and pretty at nobody’s benefit except your own.

On the other hand, taking a standard photograph of animals objectifies them less. You have the freedom to appreciate your subject, and they have the freedom to move around. Of course, in this situation I am referring to wild animals, as photographing an animal in captivity is wrong because of the damaging nature of zoos.

Basically, you should never force an animal to model as a prop in a selfie with you, because it objectifies them and you are probably making them do something they don’t want to. Additionally, if you’re paying someone to let you take a selfie with an animal, you’re funding a life of misery and slavery.

Animals as photo-props

'Nycticebus tooth removal 01' by International Animal Rescue (IAR) is licensed under CC BY-SA 1.0

Just one of the procedures which animals in the photo-prop industry have to go through

Unfortunately, the industry known as ‘photo-prop industry’ is alive and kicking in many parts of the world. The best thing to do is to avoid these businesses at all costs, and complain to the city’s tourist board. Kick up a fuss, as photo-props are frowned on by many, and the money that they make mostly comes from naive tourists and travellers who genuinely don’t know any better.

Popular photo prop locations include Thailand, Mexico, Spain, Sri Lanka, India, Russia, and Bulgaria. The animals used have often been bred in captivity, or snatched from the wild as babies. In either situation, the owners of the business put on an image of compassion and care, but this is only on the surface. The only thing these industries care about is making money, and as a result, the animals are often very mistreated.

As clearly explained on a pdf by born free, animals being used as photo props can be exploited in the following ways:

  1. They are taken away from their mothers as babies, and once the animal has grown past its “cute” phase, it is often killed and replaced.
  2. Drugs are often used in order to keep the animals calm and docile – non-threatening to the humans exploiting them.
  3. Constant human interaction causes a lot of stress to many wild animals.
  4. ‘Dangerous’ animals have their mouth wired or taped shut (see my post about alligators and crocodiles).
  5. Big cats are often declawed. This is often done without anesthetic, making it a painful process for the animal to endure.
  6. Some animals get their canines removed to make them less threatening. Again, this is a painful, cruel process.
  7. After hours, out of sight from tourists, the animals are kept in small, uncomfortable cages.

So again I must stress, never support a company which offers photo/selfie opportunities with a what-would-be wild animal. Don’t fund the industry, report it.

'Male Tiger, Tiger Temple, Thailand' by MichaelJanich is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Captive Tiger on a Leash, being used for selfies every day.

The Slow Loris as a photo-prop

Slow Lorises are  a threatened primate, as unfortunately they are exploited by humans in many ways.  One way is through the illegal pet industry. They have been branded as cute by so many people since they became a YouTube hit by being tickled on camera. Less commonly known, is that this is actually very abusive and cruel to the animal. For more information, watch this short two minute video about the Slow Loris pet industry.

Another way in which the Slow Loris is exploited, is as a photo-prop. Phuket, Thailand, is a very popular tourist destination. It is sunny, cheap, tropical and exotic. It is also the perfect environment to exploit wild animals which many tourists would never have seen before. It used to be gibbons, but now the Slow Loris is the star attraction. The baby primates have their teeth ripped out and are crammed into small cages, and some are dressed up in order to emphasise their ‘adorableness’. These animals are naturally nocturnal, but tourist hours are daytime hours, so they are forced into the bright sunlight all day, posing unwillingly for photo after photo, making money for a corrupt industry.

'Myanmar Illicit Endangered Wildlife Market 05' by Dan Bennett is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Lorises and other animals crammed into small, dirty cages

It’s heartbreaking to see images of this happening, and it’s so easy to want to get angry and blame the tourists. But, in reality, they are just ignorant. If they knew the real horrors of the photo-prop industry (for all animals, not just Lorises), the industries would go out of business in a flash. Like I say with all of my posts, educate your friends and families, share the message, inform people about the horrors of these industries. Create a snowball effect, and make a positive impact, today.

Photographing animals doesn’t need to be harmful. Ditch the selfies and the busy tourist areas, get yourself out into the nature and explore. Photo opportunities will come along at some point, and they will be a hundred times better because they will reflect the real world. And of course, no animals will be hurt, or killed, in the process.

For more information on the problems of animal selfies, check out this website.

For more information about Slow Lorises, the Little Fireface Project is a great resource.

Stay tuned for my next post in the Animals, Eco-Tourism and You series, which will be up in a couple of days! And please let me know if there’s any form of animal exploitation that you’d like me to do a post about, I’m accepting every suggestion. Don’t forget to share this page and subscribe to the website for new content. You can also find me on YoutubeTwitter,Instagram,Google + and Tumblr for even more!


Image Attribution

Macaca nigra self-portrait‘ by NBC news, is licensed under public domain.

Nycticebus tooth removal 01‘ by International Animal Rescue (IAR) is licensed under CC BY-SA 1.0.

Male Tiger, Tiger Temple, Thailand‘ by MichaelJanich is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Myanmar Illicit Endangered Wildlife Market 05‘ by Dan Bennett is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The Underappreciated Alligator

(This is the second post in my Animals, Eco-Tourism and You series. Interested in the ethics of elephant trekking? Check it out here. To read what my project is all about, check out this post).

In writing about the issue of alligators and crocodiles within the tourist industry, I feel as though I am already drifting away from my base idea of animals and Eco-Tourism. Nevertheless, as my title suggests, these animals are very underappreciated in comparison to stereotypically cuter mammals (elephants, pandas, tigers etc..). With the ‘cute’ wildlife, there is much more passion and awareness. Does that mean that the alligator and the crocodile deserve less? Because they’re less aesthetically pleasing to the eye? As an animal rights activist, I am determined to give a voice to all animals, regardless of how the rest of the world sees them.

'Alligator mississip 20070319' by John Magnus is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Not cute? An alligator basking in the sun.

Being an incredibly over-emotional person, I almost broke down crying a few weeks ago when I picked up a leaflet for a water park near Malaga, where I’m currently living. Turning the leaflet over I saw one of the exhibitions was a crocodile show, where children could hold them. The image they featured was horrible, in a young child’s arms sat a helpless baby crocodile with their mouth taped shut, and a very unhappy look in its eyes (I may have been imagining the unhappy look but it tugged at my heartstrings). I immediately threw the leaflet away as I am 100% against funding companies like that, and now I can’t remember which park it was.

The thing that makes me most angry about alligator and crocodile parks is the way these creatures are given little to no respect by the tourists compared to other animals. If elephants mouths had to be taped shut in order for people to ride them, there would be an outrage (completely ignoring the fact that they go through years of abuse to be docile enough to be ridden). But alligators and crocodiles, I believe, are considered more of a commodity than a creature. They are a thrill. People hold them and take selfies with them to get a rush, rather than to respect them. These animals have a heartbeat, can feel pain, have families, can communicate, nurture their young … but all they are to the general public is nothing more than an attraction. A mere roller-coaster of adrenaline.

When I say alligators and crocodiles, I am fully aware that there are many different kinds of both species, so I know that I will have to make some generalisations to get my point across in less than a novel’s worth of ranting. The most common distinction between the two species is the shape of the jaw. Alligators have a U-shaped jaw, whilst crocodiles’ jaws are more pointed like a V. Alligators are mostly found in the United States, whereas crocodiles live in a variety of locations including Africa and India. Both are a potential threat to man. It is estimated that 2,500 people per year get killed by crocodiles. Unfortunately this is often just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And of course, like everything, humans are not always the victim. With numerous crocodile/alligator farms, and poaching of these creatures, I’d assume that far more of these creatures are killed by us per year than vice-versa. That ‘luxury’ crocodile skin handbag certainly wasn’t a luxurious experience for the murdered animal.

'Crocfarm' by MartinRe is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

A ‘luxurious’ five-star hotel that is a crocodile farm

Alligator and crocodile parks are wrong and inhumane for a number of reasons, and the main reason why I am so angry about them is because of the lack of care others have for them. The following reasons are why you should boycott all of these said parks:

  1. They are essentially zoos for one type of animal. They are captive, have no chance of freedom, and are forced to submit to the egocentric humans that dominate them. One of the owners of the Crocodile Park in Torremolinos (nearby where I live), claims to love and be a big crocodile enthusiast (according to TripAdvisor!), but that doesn’t add up to me. If you loved these creatures so much, why would you feel the need to capture them for the sake of entertaining tourists.
  2. They tape up baby’s mouths for the sake of selfies. *(I couldn’t find an image with the correct licensing to share onto this post, but a quick search on crocodile park pages/Google images will show you what I’m referring to!)* Taping up their mouths is a common practice amongst crocodile/alligator pet owners so they can hold them without getting snapped at, but that doesn’t make it okay in the slightest. This is a living, breathing, feeling animal, and if you have to tape it up in order for it to not hurt you, then guess what? You probably shouldn’t be holding it in the first place. I am sure that the animal owners have plenty of excuses as to why they do it, but I’m asking you now to ignore these. Think about how you would feel, as a baby, being taken away from your mother, taped up, and passed around like a prop? Empathy is a powerful thing. Did you know, that in the wild, a parent crocodile will nurture and care for their baby for over a year?
  3. The conditions they are kept in are often cramped and dirty looking. I have never been to a crocodile park, but just from looking at images and reviews it’s clear to see that they aren’t exactly living in a five star hotel. There often seems to be tens of them (at least!) in one small enclosure, and the land and water they are provided always looks dirty. The largest type of crocodile is the saltwater crocodile, and they grow up to over seven meters long. A creature that size would 100% not benefit from living in cramped quarters with several others. Anyone could tell you that. *(Check out the images on this page and this page and see for yourself the kind of environment they have to live in)*
  4. With cramped conditions, disease is never far behind. Captivity causes stress amongst crocodiles (who wouldn’t be stressed surrounded by people all the time?), and this encourages illness to spread. Common examples of illnesses are caiman pox, adenoviral Hepatitis, chlamydiosis, and mycoplasmosis. To add to this, the water is often dirty and unhygienic. So many of these alligators and crocodiles are dying from disease in captivity that could so easily have been avoided in the wild.
'Torremolinos - Crocodile Park' by Tiia Monto is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Is this enough space for all of these crocodiles?

These animal’s lives are worth more than a selfie for a few likes on instagram, and it’s clear to see that they would be much happier being left alone in the wild, where they belong. Some types of alligator and crocodile are endangered or threatened, and this is mostly the fault of human interference through poaching and habitat destruction.

If you are travelling to a place where either of these creatures live and are desperate to see one, I urge you to consider alternatives. At a slightly higher risk, there are places you can go to see them in the wild. You’ll have a smaller chance of spotting any, but how much more rewarding would it be to see a real, free animal in its natural habitat? In parts of Australia I have seen that some companies are offering boat tours to the natural habitats of crocodiles for tourists to take photos. Yes, that means disturbing their peace, but it’s a far better alternative than locking them up in dirty prisons.

'Baby Crocodile' by blickpixel is licensed under CC0 public domain

A cute baby crocodile

I am sure there must be sanctuaries out there as well that may allow visits. However, just because a place has the word ‘sanctuary’ in its name, that doesn’t mean its ethically fine. Some places will have rescued the animals and will be simply giving them a second chance at life, other places will be more vague about where their animals come from and will, essentially, just be another zoo type place. So it’s up to you to make the judgement if there is a sanctuary you want to visit, to be confident that it’s for the animals comfort rather than the people’s entertainment.

Let’s help out these underappreciated creatures by learning about them, and supporting conservation schemes that help them. In addition sharing this post with friends on social media will raise even more awareness. Let’s let people know how wrong it is to go to parks and zoos that promote overcrowding, selfies, and dirty enclosures.

Let’s give some love to those alligators and crocs today.

Stay tuned for my next post in the Animals, Eco-Tourism and You series, which will be up in a couple of days! And please let me know if there’s any form of animal exploitation that you’d like me to do a post about, I’m accepting every suggestion. Don’t forget to share this page and subscribe to the website for new content. You can also find me onYoutubeTwitter,Instagram, Google + and Tumblr for even more! 

Image Attribution

Alligator mississip 20070319‘ by John Magnus is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Crocfarm‘ by MartinRe is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Torremolinos – Crocodile Park‘ by Tiia Monto is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Baby Crocodile‘ by blickpixel is licensed under CC0 public domain