For the longest time I have been attempting to educate social media users on the unethical side of animal tourism, be it swimming with dolphins, riding elephants, walking with lions, taking a selfie with a sedated tiger or watching bears or monkeys perform. Every time I see someone post a photo of one of these activities I will raise awareness of what the realities are behind the “Instagram shot” in the hope that it is taken down and thus dissuading others from doing the same.
One of the areas I struggled with was what next after I had identified a venue where an animal was used for human entertainment, a selfie prop or mistreated.
Most people don’t maliciously participate in these activities, rather they are unaware of what goes on behind the scenes, or are told by the venues that by purchasing a ticket for the performance or activity, they are contributing towards ‘conservation’ which is a word misused massively by these venues.
After experiencing the activity and seeing the condition in which animals are kept and treated, most people feel a humongous sense of guilt and often don’t know what to do next to stop others from falling for it.
Now there is hope! Raise the Red Flag, a pioneering website and concept by Aaron Gekoski, a photo journalist who has used photography to raise awareness about cruel Wildlife Tourism Attractions, and backed by British Airways, has been launched by Born Free Foundation to offer advice to animal lovers to avoid visiting offending places – both in the UK and abroad, as well as act as a platform to report venues and incidents of suffering.
This could range from zoos, circuses, dolphinariums, ‘sanctuaries,’ theme parks or even captive animals that are bred and kept as exotic pets.
The eyewitness reports will be recorded in Born Free Foundation’s comprehensive database and map, and used, where possible, to raise awareness, conduct further investigation and/or used in their ongoing campaigns to help wild animals in need.
I was grateful to have been able to attend the launch of the event, hear from Born Free Foundation’s newest Patron Mollie King, and hear from Aaron, and see some of his incredible photos, which are compelling and truly paint a picture of the devastating reality that animals are going through.
I was also honoured to meet Will Travers, president of Born Free Foundation and Born Free USA, who I had chatted to over social media many times before about animal welfare issues.
I am really pleased that we have resources such as Raise the Red Flag available now and it will go someway towards helping to reduce the demand for unethical animal tourism and activities and also serve to raise awareness about the plight that these animals face in reality.
It’s easy to spot flags per location and really easy to navigate and I look forward to working with Born Free for some future initiatives.
For more information about Raise the Red Flag visit the website link here: https://www.bornfree.org.uk/raise-the-red-flag