Tourists unknowingly post selfies with illegally captured Amazonian animals

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Innocent Instagram selfies are causing widespread suffering to the Amazon rainforest’s animals, such as sloths, toucans, green anacondas, caiman crocodiles and the giant anteater.

In a recent study by the nonprofit charity World Animal Protection, or WAP, the investigators uncovered damning evidence, or evidence that strongly indicates someone is guilty of a crime, of cruelty inflicted on captured wild animals by local tour operators, often to provide photo opportunities for tourists.

Focusing on the Amazonian cities of Manaus in Brazil and Puerto Alegría in Peru, the report discovered that animals are often illegally extracted from their natural habitats and abused in captivity. For example, the investigation found captured sloths dead in less than six months, birds such as toucans with critical wounds, anacondas severely dehydrated and in one particularly case, a giant anteater manhandled and beaten by its captor.

Personal photos with wild animals have become desirable souvenirs among tourists.

Between 2014 and 2017, there was a 292 percent increase in the number of wildlife selfies posted on Instagram.

Leveraging the popularity of this selfie trend, irresponsible tour operators in the Amazon have rushed to capture wild animals, even those that are nearing extinction and protected by law.

Over 40 percent of wildlife selfies are allegedly “bad” selfies , those featuring someone inappropriately interacting with an illegally captured or exploited wild animal.

In Manaus, the research anayzed the various excursion packages by 18 tourist agencies.

In 94 percent of cases, the agencies offered direct contact with wild animals for photo opportunities. The Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, also known as IBAMA, launched operation “Teia” in November 2016 to combat these illegal activities, after complaints against tourism operators and evidence were gathered from social network posts. Six companies were fined a total of $425,000.

Many tourists are well-meaning and do not intend to harm wild animals – they simply want to shed some temporary limelight on their adventures and eternalize a special memory.

Opinions on this issue seem to vary at Baruch College’s campus.

John Wong, a senior who is an international marketing major, said, “I do not think posting pictures on Instagram means I am being disrespectful to anyone– especially to animals in any way. If anything, it can create awareness for important causes such as extinction of certain species and other issues.”

However, Jonathan Castro, a senior who is a finance major, had a different take. He noted that “Instagram, just like most social media websites, fosters the need for vanity and self-promotion. People are ignorant about the mistreatment of animals and it seems that the number of likes counts more than ethics nowadays. I would recommend people to avoid these photo opportunities when traveling unless the tourist agency publicly displays proper licensing.”

WAP encourages tourists to see wild animals in their natural environment. To avoid disturbing wildlife, the charity urges vsitors to stay at a responsible distance away from the animals and do not feed or interact with them.

Another option is to visit wildlife reservations and sanctuaries to support establishments where direct contact is expressly forbidden and animals are not kept in captivity.

The organization asked Instagram to discourage its users from posting pictures with wild animals.

The app responded by releasing a written statement to Mashable regarding the issue, affirming that "we prohibit the use of Instagram to facilitate or organize criminal activity that causes physical harm to animals."

If tourists are interested in animal welfare and the work done by WAP, they can sign up on the charity’s website at www.worldanimalprotection.org to receive updates on its activities and find out how to help advance its mission.