I am always trying to find ways to reignite the conversation about and a chance to raise awareness on the sad plight of some of the world’s magnificent animals that we are so lucky to be able to see today, such as elephants, giraffes, cheetahs, rhinos and tigers, just to name a few. It is an important conversation to be had, so that we can try our level best collectively, to ensure future generations can also see these remarkable animals just as we are so blessed to today.
With the rise in popularity of social media channels, I have seen an increase in the amount of photos of individuals posing with various animals deemed either Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered to Critically Endangered, which are rankings set by The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a global authority that determines the endangered status of a species and subspecies.
I reached out to FOUR PAWS USA, an international non- profit focused on animal welfare and operating ethical animal sanctuaries on their opinions on the rise of photos on social media of unethical wildlife tourist attractions, particularly of endangered species.
Claire LaFrance, Head of Communications at FOUR PAWS USA told me her thoughts.
“Social media is undeniably a powerful communication and connectivity tool that leads to both good and bad outcomes. Social media has been great in terms of helping spread awareness and educating the masses about environmental conservation and endangered species, but now we’ve been seeing a detrimental trend unfold: animal selfies. More social media users are traveling and searching for the best social media post opportunity – likes are becoming more important than lives.
Snuggling up to a lion or tiger cub, catching a selfie with a baby monkey or sitting on the back of an elephant: these practices are detrimental to an animal’s way of life and appropriate a cycle of removing these animals from the wild and subjecting them to suppress their natural instincts. What most travelers don’t realize is that a great deal of animal attractions may directly contribute to wildlife trafficking, animal cruelty, or worse – death and suffering of animals. Tigers and lions are often drugged, babies are often taken from the wild, a great deal of ‘sanctuaries’ that claim to have rescued their animals are often breeding them themselves.
FOUR PAWS applauds the bold move from Instagram when they announced in late 2017 its effort to “add content warnings” on frequently used hashtags that often coincide with a photo including a wild animal (#koalaselfie, #lionselfie #koalahugs, #tigerpet). These “wildlife selfies” have become the new traveler’s checklist influenced by celebrities like Paris Hilton, Justine Timberlake, Rihanna and many more.
The moral of the story is, FOUR PAWS is organizationally opposed to any use of wild animals for human entertainment. This broad topic covers many, many instances whether it is petting, feeding or walking with big cats (or cubs), elephant rides, or swimming with dolphins. Tourist activities such as these can cause lifelong suffering for wild animals.
FOUR PAWS strongly encourages people to always be well-informed when they travel: Avoid any attractions involving photo opportunities with wild animals and instead, research ethical, animal friendly sanctuaries to visit. Generally, an accredited sanctuary should have strict conservation measures that put the animals’ welfare first: no petting, feeding or interacting with the animals and there should be no breeding, selling or trading of animals whatsoever.”
If you are travelling to a destination and wanted to check if a sanctuary was legit, I have created a page on my blog which can be accessed through my main header which has lists of venues to avoid. If you come across a venue that is unethical and I haven’t yet covered please drop me a message and I will add it straight away!
I love the work that FOUR PAWS USA are doing and many a time when I have queried an activity with them they have been super helpful! I asked Claire LaFrance, Head of Communications at FOUR PAWS USA, about some of their priorities this year, in case you wanted to find out more about the work that goes on behind the scenes of these wonderful organisations raising awareness for our much loved animals.
Head of Communications, Claire LaFrance told me:
“We have some great priorities for this year. As you know, FOUR PAWS is an international animal welfare organization that has – for over 25 years – consistently and successfully focused on one goal: to improve the lives of animals around the world. We are a strong, global and independent voice for animals under human control. We fight animal injustice around the world through rescue and refuge, education and advocacy. We strive for improvements in animal welfare through sustainable campaigns and projects.
Here are some projects for 2019:
Save the Saddest Bears – Our umbrella term for the global effort worldwide to find sustainable solutions for bears suffering in substandard conditions in captivity around the world! Across Europe this means advocating for bears on a legislative level helping to make private ownership and bear baiting illegal in many countries, while running 6 bear sanctuaries Parks in Bulgaria, Austria, Kosovo, Switzerland and Germany.
This also means tackling the cruel bear bile industry, a growing black market, especially in Vietnam where bears are kept on private farms for bile extraction.
FOUR PAWS has launched a project to save bile bears in Vietnam. It is estimated that 800 bile bears suffering on 250 bear farms. We are providing on-the-ground support for rescued bears and developing a comprehensive strategy to rescue the last of the Vietnamese bile bears. In March of this year, FOUR PAWS also opened to the public our Bear Sanctuary in Ninh Binh in Vietnam to provide life- long homes for former bile bears. The sanctuary currently has 17 residents, with the overall capacity for 100 bears in total, and also serves as an education center for locals and tourists alike!
FOUR PAWS’ Big Cat Sanctuary LIONSROCK and fighting the Canned Hunting industry. Big Cat Sanctuary LIONSROCK in South Africa is one of the largest big cat sanctuaries in the world providing permanent care to over 100 rescued big cats. Before FOUR PAWS took over the property of LIONSROCK in 2006, the facility used to be a breeding farm. Most recently residents are big cats rescued from war- torn zoos in Aleppo and Gaza were brought to this animal refuge. FOUR PAWS offices in the US and South Africa work closely together to concurrently fight the brutal canned hunting and trophy industries. Through these efforts we aim to end the farming of lions in South Africa, most of the big cats destined for the canned hunting industry, while pressuring the US government to ban all imports of animal trophies into the US.
Stray Animal Care Southeast Asia – an ambitious and ground-breaking effort working strategically with project partners in Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia to end the dog and cat meat trade in the region by 2030 and provide care and sustainable solutions to stray animals.
The Disaster Relief Unit works to assist communities with animals affected by disasters through direct animal rescue, the provision of public health services and support of civil protection efforts, and to build resilient communities through disaster risk reduction policies that are inclusive of animals. Currently our team is in India assisting with livestock and companion animals of communities hardest hit by Cyclone Fani.
The Emergency Response Unit consists of specially trained FOUR PAWS employees, led by a head veterinarian, that rescues and provides medical care to animals in critical situations. Our team, most recently, rescued 47 animals from a rundown zoo in the Gaza Strip earlier this year.
#Wearitkind Later this year, FOUR PAWS US will be launching a positive and collaborative campaign that aims to: Build compassionate fashion movement that raises awareness of animal cruelty within the fashion industry and move people to make animal friendly choices ensuring animals are part of the “ethical fashion” movement and ultimately improve standards of animal welfare.
Additionally, FOUR PAWS US is currently participating in a handful of coalition and partnerships across the US including Fur Free NYC, Fur Free California, along with advocating on NYC Ban on Foie Gras, Circus Ban Bills in California and Massachusetts.”
A lot of impressive projects!
As well as the rise of these photos for social media fuelling the demand for these unethical activities, I have seen instances in Africa’s game parks where geotagging the location of certain animals leads poachers to these animals, and so something to be mindful about if you decide to go on safari and upload any photos. Please don’t reveal their location!
I do feel that the positive aspect about Social Media is that it generates so much information about planet Earth and all the animals that roam free on it right now and there are ample resources available that can educate about both the environment and endangered animals.
Similarly it is a way of spreading awareness of issues and a way of reaching a larger audience to educate them on positives and negatives when it comes to wildlife and the environment. The more people that can comment on photos of unethical activities to educate the person sharing it as well as reporting it to Facebook/Instagram to remove it, the better.
I will continue trying to champion this through my blog and social media channels as I feel no matter how small a step, it is still a step in the right direction and can make a difference in tiny ripples which eventually lead to making waves.
There are genuine ways of interacting with animals that are not detrimental to them, and some ways, such as going on a safari, means in some instances the money you pay towards park fees actually goes back into conservation efforts. A little bit of research goes a long way.
From my own personal experience growing up in Kenya, there are a few options for appropriate animal encounters that still provide the thrill of being up-close to wildlife, while not compromising the animals’ well-being:
Giraffe Centre in Nairobi
Giraffes are the gentle giants of the wild and The Giraffe Centre serves as a home to a number of endangered Rothschild giraffes. It operates a breeding programme that successfully reintroduces breeding pairs back into the wild to counter the subspecies’ decline in the wild.
The giraffe roam freely around the grounds and come and see guests standing on a raised platform to see what treats might be waiting for them. While these interactions can never be guaranteed, as the giraffe are wild, it does happen very regularly and is always a very charming encounter for any animal lover.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Elephant Orphanage, Nairobi
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust‘s Elephant Orphanage based in Nairobi, Kenyarehabilitates and looks after orphaned baby elephants until they are old enough to be released into the wild at Tsavo National Park. Guests to the orphanage can observe these elephants at a set time as they are fed, bathed and spend time playing with each other.
The orphanage exists to offer hope for the future of Kenya’s threatened elephant and rhino populations, and has received world-wide acclaim through its hugely successful rescue and rehabilitation program.
I have personally volunteered several times at their UK office and so know exactly how much efforts go on behind the scenes.
How to avoid unethical animal activities
- Stick to wildlife encounters in their natural habitat
- Do your research and use trusted operators: Google search, Trip advisor (ban on wildlife attractions)
- Any tour that lets you ride, cuddle, or manhandle wild animals should be avoided.
- Ask questions: where do the animals come from? Where is my money going…
- Any humanised animal performance like dancing is a ‘no-go’
A great reference by World Animal Protection
What to do if you have visited one of these places and regret it.
Delete your photos or don’t share them on social media.
Educate others about it.
You can report these venues and activities on this link by Born Free Foundation:
If in doubt, don’t go.
A big thank you to the lovely Claire LaFrance and her wonderful team at FOUR PAWS for sharing their thoughts with me and I hope to be able to support them in some way in the coming months on their various projects.
Find out more about them here: https://www.four-paws.us/