Tourists often relish the opportunity to have a snap taken of them cuddling up to a cool animal. If you have well traveled friends, you've probably seen a "selfie" or two of them with a lion cub, slow loris or even a tiger. Many are under the impression that these animals are cared for and that the money donated for the animal selfie is going towards some conservation effort, but the harrowing reality is that more often than not, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
A lot of the animals in these photographs were poached from their natural habitats as opposed to being rescued. They’re often mistreated and abused and many handlers will discard them with little to no chance of survival after they’re deemed less “cute.” Many are also endangered species, and it’s estimated that for every animal caught and sold for the photo prop or pet trade, 50 die in the process. This should serve as a stark wake up call to tourists visiting places where this is commonplace like Thailand and Mexico, and thankfully it’s spurred a wildlife charity to begin a “No Photos, Please!” campaign to raise awareness.
While this happens to a lot of animals in many countries, the charity draws attention to slow lorises. Just last year, pop star Rihanna posted a selfie with one of these animals in Thailand which quickly prompted an investigation that led to two arrests. These animals are endangered and babies are usually snatched from their mothers in the wild. They’ll often also kill the mothers, as they fiercely try to protect their young. Furthermore, their teeth are often ripped out to prevent them from biting tourists, leading to infection and often death. Not to mention that these animals are nocturnal and shy in nature; being paraded around, grabbed and shoved in front of a camera is undoubtedly a terrifying experience.
The story for tigers is equally sad. Tigers are also endangered and it’s estimated that since 2000, over 1,500 have been poached from the wild. There are rumors that the animals have been drugged to keep them docile for tourists, preventing attacks - which seems likely, as they often appear dopey and docile in footage and photographs. Claws and teeth are also sometimes removed for the same reason.
The take home message is clear- if you want to stop this from happening, please don’t pay for photos with these animals. For that photo with 30 likes on Facebook, a lot of suffering has probably been endured. Of course, there are places genuinely dedicated to conservation that rely on donations from tourists to fund important projects, such as the Jaguar Rescue Center in Costa Rica. But don't be fooled into thinking that a photo with a monkey on the street won't do any harm. Before visiting an animal "sanctuary" abroad, research the organization. Find out where the animals come from, how they're handled and treated and the history of the organization. Any group that lets you take a photo with a wild animal for cash, probably doesn't have the animals best interests in mind. There are a few exceptions to this rule, but make sure you know who the exceptions are before you start cuddling a tiger.