The accidental death of stranded animals at the hands of ignorant holidaymakers is sadly not a new phenomenon. Instead it has become increasingly commonplace that wild animals are made vulnerable to tourists’ quests for ‘the perfect selfie’. A number of deaths of wild animals are being reported in popular holiday destinations around the world every year.
The dangers of the modern ‘selfie’ craze are dramatically underscored by the 50 per cent increase in human deaths attributed to ‘dangerous selfies’ that occurred between 2015 and 2016. Individuals are going to new lengths to get the perfect shot, not just putting themselves in danger, but also the lives of some of the world’s most endangered species.
“The quest for the ‘cute selfie’ or a few ‘likes’ has fuelled a grim market for exploitation and cruelty around the world”
The most recent animal mistreatment occurred on the Spanish coast of Almeria when a baby dolphin was found dead on the beach at Mojácar on 11 August 2017. After becoming stranded on the busy sands, hundreds of tourists were reported to have flocked straight to the dolphin. Equinac, a local environmental group in the Mojácar area, stated that the dolphin initially became stranded due to either an underlying illness or the loss of its mother. However, the eventual death was caused by ‘selfish humans, the most irrational species that exists,’ said Equinac in a passionate statement. The ‘harassing, manipulating, crowding over and taking pictures’ caused the animal, which is highly susceptible to shock, to go into a stress-induced cardiorespiratory failure. It had been reported that the calf had been passed around from one tourist to another to capture their holiday images.
Unfortunately the death of this baby dolphin is not unique. Elisa Allen, UK Director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), suggests that ‘this incident is just the latest tragic incident in a growing list of animal selfie fatalities’. In February 2016, on the coast of Santa Teresita, a tourist hotspot in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the death of the endangered La Plata dolphin was caused when photograph-hungry tourists kept the animal out of the water. A similar incident occurred a year later, also in Argentina. Dolphins are not the only species to fall victim to posing tourists in the last five years. In 2015 in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, sea turtles had their egg-laying routine ruined and were physically battered by happy snapping holidaymakers.
Increases in the tourism trade have enhanced this problem further. Some companies are benefiting economically from the mistreatment of wild animals. ‘The quest for the “cute selfie” or a few “likes” has fuelled a grim market for exploitation and cruelty around the world,’ says Allen. ‘Zoos, marine parks, and pseudo-sanctuaries breed animals so that the babies can be used as photo props – they’re taken away from their mothers when they’re just days old in order to acclimate them to handling so that they can be passed from one stranger to another. These vulnerable infants are often made to work all day long without adequate food, water, or rest – and when they’ve grown too big to be used as props, they’re shipped off to appalling roadside zoos, slaughtered for meat, or used as targets in canned hunts.’
The numbers of deaths of various animal species in tourist hotspots are increasing every year as support for the selfie trend is ever increasing. A study into the effect of media on the public perception of chimpanzees, showed that the portrayal of chimpanzees in unnatural, human-like situations may have a negative effect on the public’s understanding of their endangered status in the wild by making them appear less dangerous.
“More often than not, these photos take advantage of beautiful creatures that have been torn from their natural environment. Wild animals deserve to live in the wild”
Repeated cases have encouraged a growing awareness of this issue and worldwide, efforts are being made to reduce the exploitation of animals. In 2010, the travel company TUI Netherlands became the first operator to stop all ticket sales to holiday venues offering elephant rides for tourists. Since then, 160 other companies have followed suit. In October 2016, TripAdvisor launched its ‘no touching of wild animals’ policy in which it stopped the ticket sales to attractions where people came into physical contact with captive, wild or endangered animals. Following an appeal from PETA Australia, the dating app, Tinder, released a #NoTigerSelfies hashtag campaign. In a statement released by Tinder, it urged its users to take down their tiger selfies: ‘More often than not, these photos take advantage of beautiful creatures that have been torn from their natural environment. Wild animals deserve to live in the wild.’
‘If you’re lucky enough to see an animal in the wild, revel in the watching, not the touching,’ urges PETA’s Allen. ‘If you see somewhere offering photo opportunities with animals, refuse to buy a ticket. Simply doing this – and encouraging others to do the same – is the best way to help animals who are being exploited.’
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