Over the past few years, selfies with wild animals have flooded social media sites Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, driving the exploitation of animals across the world, according to a new report titled Wildlife Selfies launched recently in Nairobi by the World Animal Protection.
"We're not saying 'no' to taking selfies with wild animals," said Terryson Williams of the World Society for the Protection of Animals, "but what we're saying take the picture in a responsible manner."
In Africa, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa are in the top 20 countries for inappropriate wildlife selfies.
The three most abused 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," said Edith Kabesiime, WAP's wildlife campaign manager for Africa.
As innocent and cool as selfies may look on social media platforms, there is a downside to it -- the illegal trade in exotic animals such as the rare sloth to the cheetah captured from the wild and sold as pets for the tourist entertainment trade.
"There are more than 550,000 wild animals in captivity," said Kabesiime. Many are starved, beaten into submission, poorly kept or even abandoned when it becomes too expensive to keep or too big to take care of.
The statistics on selfies
Working with Grassriots - a Canadian organisation whose mission is to help people and organisations focused on positive social change -- WAP has developed a software to monitor wildlife selfies online.
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.
"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," says WAP's sebsite.
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 $13 in the market.
Since 2014, there has been a 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 too close for the elephant's comfort.
Some 54 per cent of 249 selfies analysed were of people in direct contact with the wild animals, kissing and cuddling; with 35 per cent feeding the animals illegally.
WAP said 61 per cent of these animals are on the endangered list. These are lions, tigers, cheetahs, elephants, the great apes and sloths. The latter two for example do not survive well in captivity and away from their natural habitats of the rainforests of the Congo and the Amazon.
"Wildlife selfies are gaining momentum in Africa," said Ms 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."
The wildlife selfie code
According to WAP, Instagram as one of the largest social platforms has no community guidelines on animal welfare or animal cruelty.
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