Wildlife Selfies Are Now A Thing And It’s Harming Animals

When conservationists and researchers take selfie photographs with animals, they are trying to raise awareness in an effort to protect a species from extinction. But all too often, people are going to extraordinary lengths to take selfies with animals themselves, and that is having a negative impact.

Wild animals are exactly that–wild–and they should be left alone by humans to do their natural activities without interruption. But a new obsession among humans since the creation of smartphones is to take the best selfie, and that obsession now includes trying to take pictures with wild animals.

While that may not be much of a problem in a zoo or a place where humans are supposed to interact with animals, it’s a major problem in the wild because these creatures are being harassed and their lives interrupted just for a picture.

“The trouble with wildlife selfies is the images are often appearing without any context – so even if the message is promoting conservation or an ambassador program, that message is lost and all people see are someone hugging a penguin, and want to do that too,” Otago University wildlife management professor Philip Seddon told The Guardian.

New Zealand, where Seddon works, is particularly plagued by people seeking selfies with wild animals, especially by tourists trying to document their every move during their trip.

“We’re losing respect for wildlife, we don’t understand the wild at all,” Seddon says.

He’s not wrong. New Zealand recently had to ban people from swimming and interacting with a population of bottlenose dolphins because the constant human interaction has caused a massive decline in the population as the dolphins prefer socializing with humans instead of performing their natural behaviors such as taking care of their young and playing their role in the ecosystem.

Seddon thinks the problem is that people in urban areas who are mostly cut off from the wilderness don’t understand the harm they are doing and the danger they put themselves and their children in. After all, wild animals are capable of attacking when they feel threatened enough.

“We have an increasingly urbanized population around the world who are alienated from the natural world and whose access to wildlife is commodified and sanitized and made safe,” Seddon says. “So we’re seeing these very strange behaviors that seem weird to us as biologists – such as posing your child on a wild animal.”

In some cases, humans are chasing animals down in order to pick them up and get photos with them, an incredibly stressful thing for the animal to go through. And penguins are near the top of the list of creatures people think they can just approach whenever they want to get a photo.

That’s why selfies are banned from being taken at the Blue Penguin Colony in Oamaru, New Zealand.

Philippa Agnew, science and environmental manager at the Blue Penguin colony in Oamaru

“The goal is to reduce all disturbance to the penguins,” science and environmental manager Philippa Agnew said. “The backlight on cellphones these days and the noise and the movement and flash of people taking selfies really stresses the animals. Even though that animal doesn’t necessarily look stressed, more often than not they are.”

Between 2014 and 2017 there was a 292% increase in wild animal selfies, 40 percent of which featured inappropriate interaction with the animal.

Not only does the interaction stress animals out, it negatively impacts their breeding and feeding habits which affects population numbers. For endangered species, this is even more harmful.

And celebrities are only making it worse with their own selfies with wild animals because all of their fans want to do the same thing.

“Any image touching an animal is sending the wrong message,” Seddon said. “We have to reinforce the fact these animals are wild species – they’re not here on our terms. They’re in a human-modified world, but not to the point where we feel we can touch them.”

Just because we see a trained wildlife expert taking a selfie with an animal to raise awareness to its plight, it does not mean we should all rush out and get selfies of our own. The experts understand how to handle animals and will do so in ways that are respectful and the least stressful. Most of the rest of us do not and we are only hurting the animals to the point where even our selfies could end up being responsible for the loss of species that are already on the brink of extinction.

Taking pictures from a distance is acceptable. But selfies are decidedly not.

To learn more, visit World Animal Protection and read their Wildlife Selfie Code.

Featured Image: World Animal Protection

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