Why wild animals shouldn't be photo props

In many destinations, tourists are offered the chance to have their photo taken with wild animals. Here's why you shouldn't do it and what to do if you see someone posing for a pic

8 mins

In many places around the world, tourists will be offered the chance to have their photograph taken with a wild animal. This could be a slow loris outside a bar in Phuket, a monkey in a dress in Marrakech, or a lion cub in Cancun.

Cute as they may look, these so-called ‘photo-prop’ animals have most likely suffered abuse to enable you to have your photograph taken with them. Chris Pitt, from RIGHT Tourism, explains his top tips to help you know what to do if someone approaches you for a photo:

1. Don’t be fooled by the ‘bond’ between owner and animal – the animal is purely an income driving tool, not a pet, and in many places the industry is run by organised criminal gangs, not individuals.

2. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the animal is relaxed and happy – slow lorises, for example, have a defence mechanism that makes them freeze or extremely docile when under stress.

3. Don’t be fooled into thinking that one quick photo won’t hurt – it will. Each and every photo taken is keeping the industry alive.

4. Don’t be tempted to try and ‘rescue’ the animal by buying it from the owner. Unless you are prepared to pay a sanctuary to cover its food and welfare costs for the rest of its life, you are unfortunately just causing another problem. And within a couple of days, another animal will have been taken from the wild to fill the space.

5. The best thing you can do is walk away. But if you don’t think that’s enough:

6. Write to the regional or country tourist board (either within that country, or their branch in your own country), and complain about the problem. International pressure can help.

7. If you travelled with a tour operator, complain to them. ‘Photo-prop’ animals are frowned upon by the travel industry, so they should be steering you clear from these practices.

8. Remember that ‘photo-prop’ animals don’t just happen in the street. Many so-called ‘sanctuaries’ offer the chance for photographs with their animals. Do your research first – how are the animals kept? Are they likely to be released? If so, they shouldn’t be handled by humans.

9. Spread the word on your social networks, tell your friends – the more people know the true story behind the photographs, the more will stop paying, and eventually the trade will die.

10. Report your experiences to www.RIGHT-tourism.org or a similar wildlife charity like the Born Free Foundation. We will publicise your comments and follow up wherever we can.

Is it ever OK to pose with a wild animal?

If you get the opportunity to have your photo taken with a wild animal, please think about these points:

  • If the animal is in a ‘sanctuary’ which claims that it will be returned to the wild, then it shouldn’t have contact with humans (other than to be fed etc);
  • If an animal hasn’t been taken from the wild, and will not ultimately be set free, then close-contact is less of a problem. However:
  • Please check that its needs are being met: what condition is it in, what is its housing like, is it being fed properly, is it behaving the way a wild animal should, is it scared? These are the key Five Freedoms that animals have a right to.
  • If the situation feels exploitative, then it probably is.
  • Don’t forget that disease can spread – both ways –between wild animals and humans.
  • Summary: it’s probably best to avoid close-contact with wild animals, however tempting. Readers need to judge for themselves – but please do so armed with as much information as possible.

RIGHT-tourism.org offers advice to travellers on how to enjoy wildlife without harming it. Full details on their new No Photos, Please! campaign can be found on their website.

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