The truth about the Amazon wildlife selfie trade

In Peru, wild animals are being used for selfies. We went undercover and witnessed the horrific suffering these animals go through.

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We were able to see a variety of animals, including sloths, giants anteaters and monkeys, within metres of one another. They were on wooden platforms with thatched roofs. They were being handled by tourists who were looking for the perfect selfie.

These platforms can be found in Puerto Alegria (a small village on the riverine), near the border of Colombia and Peru. Tourists are transported to Colombia by boats and hotels nearby.

After disembarking, tourists are allowed to walk on the platform and take photos with wild animals. Each tourist is charged $15 USD by the villager.

These platforms serve as the platform for what may at first seem to be harmless touristic pursuit: a photograph taken with an animal.

Tourists don’t get to see the terrible journey wild animals went through and the conditions they are forced to live under.

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As investigators, our goal was to uncover the suffering of these animals. We had to find out how they got there, what their origins were, and who took them from the wild.

These questions gave us the evidence we needed to launch our Wildlife Selfie Code campaign. This campaign is about exposing the horrible reality that animals have to endure in order to take selfies. We hope to inspire tourists to make better choices for animals.

We could only get answers if we went undercover.

Behind the scenes

Our investigation revealed that two local associations ran the wildlife selfies company in Puerto Alegria.

One man owned large collections of animals and led one of these associations. These animals lived in tiny cages. Their bodies were showing signs of abuse and forced living in unnatural conditions.

Below is Richard, a two-year-old ocelot. He had bald patches in his fur. His owner claimed that he had an allergic reaction to mosquito repellents on the hands of tourists.

We not only documented the conditions in which the animals were kept, but also the methods by which the village acquired them. There are two main routes wildlife can be sourced.

One way is to sell animals that they find on hunting expeditions through local indigenous groups. They know that the villager will use them for photo props.

Loggers are the second source. Loggers are the ones who sell the animals they have found during logging operations. These loggers know how valuable wildlife is to them.

We wanted to investigate the connection between wildlife selfie traders and loggers more.

The terrible journey

It can be very difficult to track the movements of an animal from its capture point to its final destination.

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We wanted to capture the beginning of the animals’ journey.

We placed an undercover videographer in a logging crew near Iquitos, Peru, which is well-known for its wildlife market.

The loggers were shocked to find a sloth hidden in a tree. We were able film the gut-wrenching capture from the wild of a sloth. Our videographer was working undercover so he couldn’t intervene. We did however, give information about the illegal capture to the appropriate authorities.

The $13 USD price paid by Iquitos market vendor for the captured sloth was $13 USD

We couldn’t track the movement of this sloth beyond its point of sale. However, it was most likely sold into the exotic pet trade, or as a prop for tourists taking selfies.

Even though investigations are not without limits, it is vital that we have all the information necessary to protect animals.

We can only find the hidden causes of animal suffering by uncovering them.

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This growing trend is unacceptable. You can sign up for the Wildlife Selfie Code and pledge to take cruelty-free selfies. We can all work together to keep wild animals like sloths free from cruelty.

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