Instagram has created a pop-up screen with a warning for those who search for hashtags associated with wild animal selfies: “Animal abuse and the sale of endangered animals or their parts are not allowed on Instagram.”
If users want to learn more, they can follow a link to the World Animal Protection (WAP) “Wildlife Selfie Code” site, which provides information on why wild animal selfies are not okay.
“With its community of over 800 million users, Instagram has the platform to change the conversation around the use of animals as photo props,” said Cassandra Koenen, head of wildlife campaigns at WAP. “We are encouraged by this first step towards changing the acceptability of using animals for our entertainment.”
In tourist hotspots near rainforests and other wilderness areas, animals are ripped from their homes, kept in deplorable conditions and forced to act as props or dolls for tourists. They must endure stressful “cuddling” with strangers, inappropriate handling, and photographs for hours on end. They develop health conditions from the trauma and the unnatural living environment, and die prematurely.
Posing with a wild animal for a selfie seems like an innocuous activity. But it isn’t. For example, sloths — who sleep up to 20 hours a day in the wild — suffer immensely during long days of being passed around to tourists for “hugs.“ It’s tough to recognize because of sloths’ resting smile face. But according to Monique Pool, a sloth specialist with the International Union for Conservation of Nature, sloths’ hearts beat abnormally fast when they are handled by strangers. After they are forced into the animal selfie world, captive sloths are especially prone to early death.
People who travel to areas where it is possible to pose with wild animals often care deeply about wildlife. They want to be able to show their friends, families, and social networks how much they care. Unfortunately, it is exceedingly difficult to capture a picture with a toucan, sloth, or pink river dolphin in its natural habitat. So poachers, loggers, or opportunistic local residents find and capture these cute creatures and keep them trapped for tourists.
When tourists take selfies and share them on social media, their friends become similarly attracted to the prospect of capturing an adorable photo with a smiling sloth or colorful parrot. The cycle of suffering for these animals is vicious and distinctly unfortunate.
The pain and suffering that wild animals endure for human selfies is needless, and often deadly. But Instagram’s new action could go a long way in stopping the cruelty. Their announcement follows a months-long investigation by WAP that found tens of thousands of wild animal selfies on Instagram. And as others note, popular social platforms are not only used to share wild animal selfies—they also are being utilized to sell endangered animals.