Worrying rise of taking selfies with animals.

Taking selfies and posing with animals is harmful to all concerned.

The selfie culture is extremely good news for the tourist industry in general as it has become a compulsion to instantly share every second of our lives whatever we might be doing. But it is proving extremely bad news for animals with the rise of animal selfies. It has become a worldwide obsession particularly amongst the young who cannot wait to impress their friends on social media of themselves riding, holding, hunting or just lazing beside wild animals. It is not a new phenomenon as it has been happening since the camera was first invented but with the advent of instant shareable photos on mobile phones animal selfies have increased dramatically.

According to World Animal Protection there has been nearly a 300% increase since 2014 of animal selfies posted on Instagram.

Narcissistic need to share every second of our lives.

Whether it be a tiger, elephant, koala bear, snake, monkey or a cute baby animal of any sort, everyone wants a photo with one and they often go out of their way to obtain one regardless of any stress or suffering caused to the animals. In Japan you can take a selfie with an exotic animal while sitting in a cafe having a coffee. We have a generation that has little or no respect for animals in general and just view them as cuddly toys and not living creatures. Ironically most people who participate in taking these selfies do it to show their love for animals.

The travel industry in many countries encourages this behaviour by providing trips to establishments which cater for this need so we have tiger attractions where the tigers are usually drugged, lion and cheetah meeting, elephant riding, holding baby monkeys or koala bears and swimming with captive dolphins. These and many others are all part of the animal selfie craze.

Tourits on a beach manhandling a dolphin
Tourists manhandling a dolphin. We have no respect for animals anymore or understanding of conservation.

Few ask the question of where the animals they are photographing come from and how they are obtained. And even more relevant, what happens  when they are no longer cute or become unmanageable. The answer is of course that they are discarded, killed, eaten or languish for the rest of their lives in a cage.

The use of wild animals in this way is another factor in all the exploitation and abuse of wildlife and is both an animal welfare concern and a conservation one as many of the animals used are vulnerable or endangered. A study in Latin America showed that 20% of animals used in the tourist trade were endangered and 60% protected by international law.

We ignore our health and safety just for a photo that is soon forgotten.

Those that participate in the hunt for more and more unusual and exotic animals to be photographed with often fail to realise the danger they are often putting themselves in. This is particularly so when encountering animals in the wild rather than captive ones in an attraction. Common sense and responsibility for their our own health and safety tends to be ignored and can lead to tragedy.

A couple walked up to a bison in Yellowstone Park, and tried to take a selfie only to be trampled and in 2015, an American woman in a South African lion park ignored warnings to close the car window while taking photographs, allowing a male lion to get within a yard of her before jumping and mauling her to death. A well known welsh rugby player suffered horrific injuries to his hand while trying to stroke a lion. Our increasing detachment from nature and our insistence of seeking thrills and entering wild places is making this kind of incident more common. It often results in the death of one or both participants and highlights our complete ignorance of the capabilities of wild animals and how we should act near them.

Instagram now issuing a warning.

Following a petition sent to Instagram they have produced a ‘wildlife warning’ page which monitors hashtags that mention the words animal selfie. A page pops up which warns users of the suffering caused to the animals.

It is of course difficult for anyone to resist the once in a lifetime chance for a selfie with an animal, but it is not worth the risk to the animal or yourself to do so in most cases. Selfies should only be taken from a safe distance, when the animal is in its natural habitat, able to move freely and when you are sure it is not under duress and not held captive.

Sign up to the World Protection selfie code.

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Otter lunacy in Japan’s animal cafés.

Can we expect to be drinking a latte with a hedgehog or otter at our local Starbucks or Costa anytime soon in the UK?

Animal cafés are opening across the world particularly in Asia at an increasing rate despite the obvious welfare and food hygiene issues and are proving a major draw to foreign tourists thanks to social media. Although a few restrict themselves to dogs or cats many cafe owners are constantly trying to outdo each other by introducing more and more different animals to become the quirkiest establishment.

It all began with offering customers the chance to have a latte in the company of rabbits, cats and dogs but has moved on to monkeys, chinchillas, alpacas, hedgehogs and even penquins, but now it is the turn of otters.

Cafés are heavily promoted by social media

The trend or craze is being fuelled as always by social media and judging by comments the draw of these establishments is that they are ‘cool’, the animals cute and the experience unique. This maybe a reflection on how the younger generations view animals and how out of touch they are with animal welfare issues.

The cafés are heavily promoted on travel sites, YouTube videos and the general media with little concern for the unnatural conditions faced by the animals and the stress of constant handling. They have become popular tourist attractions with foreign visitors who flock to cuddle them and take selfies to post. It has also resulted in a demand for pet otters with the inevitable rush to captive breed them and the knock on result of unwanted ones starting to appear in rescue centres in poor condition.

Foreign tourists are flocking to these animal cafés so can we expect our local Costa or Starbuck in the UK and USA to follow suit. I suspect if given the chance they would.

When will we understand that animals are not toys

It would appear from watching the videos that the foreign clientele are young adults or parents who see no harm in giving their children the impression that it is acceptable to use animals in such a way as though they are toys. We just cannot resist the desire to get up close and personal with animals and ignore the fact that most of them are stressed by the encounter.

Hedgehog cafés are the most popular.

Baby hedgehogs have been popular for a while now and you can even buy one on the spot once you have bonded with it over your coffee. You can even share a meal with a monkey or snake and have the monkey deliver it to your table dressed in a waiter’s outfit. It appears there is no end to this lunacy.

The otters used tend to be the small clawed species because, according to café owners they do not scratch so badly. Ironically the first wild otter to be seen in Japan for 38 years was spotted a few weeks before the first café opened and now the locals want to see what one looks like and own one.

Animal cafe with racoons
What happens to them when they become adults.

Given the chance would we have a latte with a hedgehog, otter or monkey at our local Costa or Starbucks?

We are now seeing cat and dog cafes opening in the UK. In fairness there is probably nothing wrong with a cat cafe as most cats enjoy pampering and interaction and there is often an added benefit that they are unwanted and looking for new homes. The problem is the use of unsuitable animals and on the spot selling to customers.

So, as these cafes are so popular with Western visitors in Japan can we expect our local Starbucks or Costa to cash in on this lucrative trend? Unfortunately, I believe that given the chance many would happily patronise such establishments, despite animal rights protests, because there is an increasing trend that it is now acceptable to exploit animals and a new generation that doesn’t appear to fully understand the concept of animal welfare.

Where and when will all this lunacy end.

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