Booming tourist demand to snap wild animals is extending to remote locations like the Amazon, with disastrous consequences
They are hard to avoid. They are everywhere you look, including on Facebook, Instagram, and Tinder.
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People taking selfies with wild animals are a popular social media trend. Tourists in Thailand love to see tigers being drugged to their eyeballs. However, my team recently discovered that cruel wildlife selfies have reached the Amazon rainforest.
Our team of investigators recently returned from two major tourist gateway cities in the Amazon, Manaus in Brazil (pictured above) and Puerto Alegria (picture below). They found heartbreaking results.
Behind the scenes
Tourists travelling to the Amazon can now take selfies with the legendary anaconda, which is the largest snake in the globe. These majestic snakes, which are not allowed to have their photos taken by tourists, are kept in dark, barren wooden boxes. They need sunlight to regulate their body temperature, and to get enough water to fully submerge.
They are held tightly by their throats when they are asked to take selfies.
Many of the snakes were severely dehydrated and had dull, wrinkled skin. There were also numerous cuts and abrasions on their bodies and snouts. These snakes are at risk of suffering from chronic stress, injury and disease if they are handled improperly.
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Tourists pass it by
It was also discovered that sloths are being taken from the wild for selfies. The average sloth is held by five people in a matter of minutes. This causes them extreme stress. They are often tied to trees using rope, and rarely live past six months.
Caiman crocodiles have been seen in darkness, in broken fridges with their mouths closed. These cold-blooded reptiles, like the anacondas, need sunlight to thrive and must be completely submerged in water. They are instead taken out of their dark polystyrene boxes and fridges to take photos with tourists, before being returned to their lonely confinement.
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To become photo props
Tourists were able to see anteaters being paraded before them. They were fumbling with them, flipping them onto their backs or pulling their legs or tails. One was even hit in the face! I find it disturbing that these violent training methods are used to make them secure enough for selfies.
They are also not receiving a proper diet, which is surprising considering that ants are their only food source in the wild.
It is a sad fact that this was only a fraction of the abuses our team discovered. If managed properly, wildlife tourism can be a good thing for wild animals and the environment. It can help to protect natural areas, increase animal welfare, and alleviate poverty.
These values are a core part of many tour operators that I have worked with over the years.
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Tourism must help wildlife protection
Wildlife tourism can also have its negative side. Many tour operators and facilities exploit wildlife to make money in ways that cause cruelty, suffering, habitat destruction, and species decline.
The boom in popularity of harmful wildlife selfies is a grave concern for animal welfare and conservation. Our online research revealed that more than 20% of species in Latin America are in danger of extinction, while over 60% of these species are protected under international law. So where’s justice for these precious wild animals?
Governments must enforce the law to address the problem. They also need to ensure that individuals and travel companies that exploit wild animals in tourism in the Amazon respect the laws.
Tourists must play an important role.
We know that most tourists who travel to the Amazon to take selfies are not aware of the horrible conditions and cruel treatment they receive. If they knew the truth, most people wouldn’t take wildlife selfies.
These wild animals are currently suffering terrible, behind and in front of the camera.
We can make a real difference
All of us have the power and ability to make a difference for these animals’ future. We can all help make this change by talking to our families and sharing our concerns about wildlife selfies online.
We can all work together to ensure that animals around the world have a better future and that wildlife tourism is free from cruelty.