The Dark Side Of Selfies: No Photo Should Cost A Life

By Sarah Faith, Responsible Travel

What does your Instagram feed say about you? Sadly that perfect picture can have some shameful undertones that you might prefer not to share with the world. Have our social media bragging rights, our search for the ultimate selfie become more valuable than its subject matter?

The recent news that a dolphin was killed by a group of Argentine beach-goers posing for photos is a case in point. While this story is particularly tragic — not only was the dolphin killed, but it was a species listed as endangered on the UN red list – it unfortunately echoes the plight of thousands of animals around the world exploited for the sake of a selfie. These are selfies gone wrong on another level. And in a cruel twist of irony, it is often people who love animals the most, who unwittingly perpetuate the abuse.

Across the world, animals are touted as props for tourist photos – and while one photo may seem harmless, and an easy way for local people to make some money, the bigger picture is darker. Repeated handling by people can be extremely stressful for wild animals, many of which may have been physically abused in order to make them tame enough for close encounters, or will have been forcibly removed from their mothers at a young age.

In some cases the implications of a seemingly innocent animal encounter are even wider. Young lion cubs touted as tourist attractions in some South African “sanctuaries” will later be sold, fully habituated to human presence, as fodder for canned hunts.

Later reports that the dolphin was already dead before it did the photo rounds are beside the point – instead we find ourselves asking how many animal-lovers would choose to pay for their picture with a captive elephant, monkey, lion, tiger, dolphin if they realized the animal is only tame through physical abuse, or that their cash will ultimately be contributing to canned hunting?

We want to open people’s eyes to animal exploitation in tourism, to give people the opportunity to make informed decisions on holiday. Our guide to responsible wildlife watching aims to do just that. Animal-friendly holiday decisions can be easy – and some of our tips for responsible animal encounters include:

  • Go wild. The real thrill and wonder in animal encounters is watching wildlife be exactly that. Wild. Watching a curious dolphin at play in the ocean, or the first fleeting glimpse of a tiger in the forest is far more powerful, far more emotive than a captive encounter.
  • Think twice before having your photo taken with a captive wild animal. You could simply be perpetuating a cycle of abuse far wider than the reach of your Instagram feed.
  • Remember, sanctuaries which encourage human interaction with wild animals – walking with lions, riding elephants, photo calls with tigers – or which encourage unnatural behavior are often unlikely to have genuine conservation aims at heart.
  • Be aware of your souvenirs. By buying tortoiseshell, ivory, coral and other animal products you are supporting an illegal trade in endangered species. For happier memories, visit local communities and support their skilled craftspeople instead.

Social media gives all of us a voice. Let’s make sure we are saying the right things.


Dolphin Death At Mirage Hotel Raises Questions Of Cetacean Rights [Blog Inspiration]

Voices in the Ocean: A Journey into the Wild and Haunting World of Dolphins by Susan Casey [Great Reads]

Fox 40 Sonik Blast Safety Whistle [Travel Safety]

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Jessica Festa

Jessica Festa is the editor of Epicure & Culture as well as Jessie on a Journey. She enjoys getting lost in new cities and having experiences you don’t read about in guidebooks. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been teaching English in Thailand, trekking her way through South America, backpacking Europe solo, road tripping through Australia, agritouring through Tuscany, and volunteering in Ghana.

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