How to be snap happy while avoiding cruel wildlife ‘selfies’

It’s summer holiday season here in the UK, and many of you, if you haven’t already, will be heading off to sunny destinations around the world for a week or two – and, if you’re lucky, you might even get a glimpse of some local wildlife.

So it seems like a good moment to share some advice about how to photograph the animals you encounter on holiday, in a way that's safe for everyone.

With the craze for sharing selfies on social media showing no sign of abating any time soon, at IFAW we were very pleased to see the recent announcement that dating app Tinder is banning the use of selfies with tigers on its site.

However, tiger selfies on Tinder are just one example of the growing trend for selfies with wild animals which many people might think make them look cool, without considering the far more serious implications for the animals involved, not to mention their own personal safety.

Just this week, there was another sad story about the selfie craze costing an animal’s life, when a crowd starting passing round and photographing a stranded baby dolphin on a Spanish beach. The dolphin  died.

At one point research showed one in 10 men on Tinder in the US having a tiger selfie as their profile photo, yet how many of these people thought about the reality of a life in captivity for the tigers they happily posed with for a moment? Many of these tigers and other big cats kept in private sanctuaries for human profit spend many hours a day chained up or in unsuitable and cramped enclosures which do not cater for their complex needs or remotely resemble their natural habitat. Some may be drugged before posing with the public, or ‘trained’ for public shows and interactions using cruel and humiliating techniques.

Exposure of the goings on at Thailand’s infamous Tiger Temple showed that life for captive tigers can often be short and miserable. In fact visiting many commercial establishments or shows offering interactions with wild animals are best avoided in favour of seeing animals in their natural environment, such as on a responsible whale watching trip or safari.

So, while the opportunity for a selfie with a wild animal may seem exciting, please think first. You can still enjoy taking and sharing selfies, just make sure they’re #SafeSelfies. This means, don’t get up close with a wild animal; instead, enjoy seeing them and photographing them in the wild where they belong and keep your distance. Or if you really want to cuddle an animal in your photos, take a selfie only with your pets.

This way, you can help ensure that animals are not enduring a lifetime of suffering just for selfies. Keeping a respectful distance from wildlife will minimise disturbance to them but also protect you. There are frequently media headlines about people being mauled or killed when interacting with animals they think are tame but are really wild and unpredictable.

So do the right thing, if you love animals and want to help protect them – stick to #SafeSelfies!


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Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy