Above: Cruel taste – a sloth dressed in pink bow with a tourist. Wath the horrendous clip below on how the sloths are captured and put in sacks to be sold in the tourist trade

Published in The East African Nation media December 16, 2017

There’s a right way and the wrong way of doing it…as the recent case of two tourists trampled to death trying to get too close to an elephant … all for a ‘selfie’.

Selfies with wild animals have proliferated over the last two years on social platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter driving the suffering and exploitation for some of the world’s most iconic animals across the world, reads a new report titled Wildlife Selfies launched in Nairobi by the World Animal Protection whose loge reads – Protect animals globally.

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There’s a right way and the wrong way of doing it

“We’re not saying ‘no’ to taking selfies with wild animals,” states Terryson Williams of WAP (formerly known as World Society for the Protection of Animals – WSPA). “But what we’re saying is take them responsibly.

“Wildlife selfies are widespread on social media with tourists wanting to connect with wildlife,” continues Williams. “The act of a camera in the hand with the ‘selfie mode’ makes it possible.”

A Close-up on Cruelty

As innocent and cool selfies may look posted on Instagram and other social platforms, there’s a very un-cool side to taking selfies with wild animals as revealed in the report – of animals ranging from the sloth to the cheetah captured from the wild and sold at markets for the exotic pet or tourist entertainment trade.

“There are more than 550,000 wild animals in captivity,” states Edith Kabesiime, WAP’s wildlife campaign manager for Africa. Many are starved, beaten into submission, poorly kept or even discarded when the animal becomes too big or expensive to look after.

The Statistics on Selfies

Working with Grassriots – a Canadian organization with the motto, ‘great solutions for doing good’, whose mission is to help people and organizations focused on positive social change, it’s developed a software to monitor wildlife selfies.

According to Kabesiime, amongst the 34 billion images posted by 700 million people on Instagram, WAP’s initial investigation shows there are tens of thousands of selfies on Instagram taken with wild animals.

WAP’s website reads, “These photos capture a moment of shareable joy for people, but for many of them, the animals’ stress and suffering is left out of the frame.”

A distressing video footage by WAP’s undercover journalists shows a sloth hanging on a 100-foot tall tree being felled by illegal loggers in the Amazon. The sloth survives the crash, forced into a sack and sold for US$ 13 in the market. See the footage.

Since 2014, there has been a shocking 292 per cent increase of selfies posted on Instagram – with over 40 per cent bad selfies… we’re talking of selfies taken of tourists holding sloths to journalists fleeing from a charging bull elephant when they got to close for the elephant’s comfort.

54 per cent of 249 selfies analysed were of people in direct contact with the wild animals … kissing and cuddling. 35 per cent were feeding the animals.

61 per cent of these animals are listed endangered  like lions, tigers, cheetahs, elephants, the great apes, sloths and more which must never be taken out of their natural habitats such as the amazing rainforests of the Congo and the Amazon.

“Wildlife selfies are gaining momentum in Africa,” continues Kabesiime. “Many people envy friends who post selfies of themselves hugging or holding wild animals, which sadly encourages more people to take their own photos.”

 South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya in the top 20 countries for inappropriate wildlife selfies.

The three iconic animals are lions, giraffes and elephants with 67 per cent selfies with lions, 28 per cent with giraffes and 10 per cent with elephants.

“We’re calling on greater responsibility on wildlife tourism that taking a selfie is a close up on cruelty,” states Kabesiime.

The Wildlife Selfie Code – A Call to Action

According to WAP, Instagram as one of the largest social platforms has a responsibility to help reduce animal suffering. Currently its community guidelines have no mention of animal welfare or animal cruelty.

Engaged in discussion with Instagram about its animal protection-related policies and armed with its petition, the Wildlife Selfie Code, WAP wants Instagram to have on its community guidelines that irresponsible selfies ‘will not see the light of day,” states Kabesiime.

You can be part of it too.

Pledge now to help filter wildlife cruelty out of tourism, and make sure your voice is heard.

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The Wildlife Selfie Code

DON’T take a wildlife selfie if:

  • I’m being held, hugged, or restrained
  • You’re baiting me with food
  • I could harm you

DO take a wildlife selfie if:

  • You keep a safe distance from me
  • I’m in my natural home
  • I’m free to move, and not captive