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.


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