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Behind The Cage

Thursday, 12 October 2017 | MYT 12:00 AM

The dark side of animal selfies

I WAS in Batu Caves at the beginning of this month and witnessed first-hand a tourist harassing a monkey so that he could take a selfie with it.

Armed with his selfie stick, the overly excited tourist got up really close to the monkey to take a picture with it.

The monkey clearly couldn’t care less about the man’s photography efforts and was more concerned with eating the flesh of a coconut.

But the man was determined to get his shot, so he started to wave his hand in front of the monkey and tapped him with his selfie stick.

The monkey was not impressed and it was annoyed enough to show the man its sharp teeth.

Thankfully for the tourist, no fight ensued. The monkey decided to take the high road and made his escape from the man.

The man didn’t realise how close he came to being attacked by the monkey and continued his walk up with a smile.

This tourist is just one of many people who are into the wildlife selfie craze.

Non-profit animal welfare organisation World Animal Protection recently published a report that revealed a shocking 292% increase worldwide in wildlife selfies since 2014.

More than 40% of these wildlife selfies involved humans “hugging or inappropriately interacting with a wild animal”.

This explosive trend on social media is, unfortunately, driving the suffering and exploitation of some of the world’s most iconic animals.

World Animal Protection found that some of these wild animals have been taken from the wild – often illegally – and cruelly abused for commercial profit.

Unsuspecting tourists are often the biggest culprits in using these wild animals as photo props.

Using animals as a photo prop not only inflicts stress and suffering on the animal but it also robs them of their freedom. It also makes their chances of survival back in the wild much harder.

Behind what might seem to be a cute selfie with an animal may be cruel practices, such as the animal being beaten into submission, living in poor conditions or being baited with food that can negatively impact its physiology and behaviour.

What is especially worrying is that 61% of the species identified by World Animal Protection are classified as needing legal protection by the Convention on the Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), and 21% of them are classified as threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

However, I am not saying that all wildlife pictures or selfies are bad.

“Bad” wildlife selfies are when the animal is being held, touched, restrained or baited for the purpose of being a photo prop.

Some “bad” photos include taking pictures with a chained and sometimes sedated tiger, or holding up a turtle by its shell, or cradling a sloth.

“Good” wildlife photos can be images where a wild animal has no direct contact with humans and the animal is not being restrained or in captivity to be used for photo-taking purposes.

Many tourists are not aware of the cruel practices of wildlife operators that offer these up-close-­and-personal selfie opportunities.

Behind the scenes, these animals may not survive longer than six months due to the unnatural way they are being kept and managed.

Governments around the world should enforce laws to protect wild animals and ensure wild animals are not being exploited for commercial purposes.

Tourists can also play their part by avoiding wildlife attractions that practise cruel wildlife entertainment such as souvenir photos.

So the next time you take a photo with an animal, ensure that you’re taking a photo from a safe distance and in the animal’s natural home.

Online reporter Victoria Brown’s Behind The Cage tackles the pressing issues of animal rights and environmental awareness. She can be reached at victoria@thestar.com.my.