Our view on “Selfie Safaris”
IQUITOS REGION – Loreto, Peru
To search for animals in their natural habitat is a difficult task. In the Amazon, you might see a caiman moments before it dives underwater, or a toucan just before it glides away above the treetops. If you are lucky, you might catch the faintest glimpse of a giant river otter just moments before it dips back into the safety of the flooded forest. Searching for animals in their own domain requires a certain degree of patience, perseverance, and active participation: but that’s the way it should be. This is what makes capturing a moment in the rainforest so much more exciting than seeing an animal in a zoo, and keeps people coming back to the rainforest again and again. However, as of late, a disturbing tourism trend has been emerging over the Amazon Region. First spoken about in this special report published last year by National Geographic, it is coming to be known as the “Selfie Safari”.
What is a “Selfie Safari”?
A “Selfie Safari” is a general term used to describe any type of wildlife tourism where the main goal is to take a picture of yourself with a wild animal in a way that disregards the animal’s welfare. Selfie Safaris usually works like this, tour agencies offer tourists a chance to see wild animals at a cheap “discount” price. These tours are often popular with backpackers and others looking for budget accommodations. The tour operators will often lie and tell tourists they will be seeing wild animals in the jungle. Companies then transport passengers to a small rural town or village for the day where they are met with many animals, but they are far from wild. Sometimes, these so-called “guides” will assure tourists that the animals are well cared for by their owners but the local people are unable to properly care for these animals. Wildlife is often kept in deplorable conditions (small cages, tied up, mutilated, etc.). These animals are then forced to pose for pictures with tourists for hours every day. Sloths, tropical birds, snakes, and primates appear to be the most common victims, but no animals are safe. There have been reports of Amazonian manatees being tied by the tail to docks, giant anteaters being kept on leashes, pink dolphins being kept in aquatic pens, the list goes on.
At this point, you might be thinking, “Well, I would never travel to those cheap discount places. I saw that this place had a good rating on Trip Advisor.” However, many agencies, even some with a decent rating on Trip Advisor, still contribute and participate in this culture of selfie tourism. Recently, Trip Advisor themselves have come under fire for promoting these attractions. In the past year alone, guides from established lodges and tour agencies in Iquitos have been witnessed grabbing wildlife from trees, picking up and holding sloths, grabbing small caiman crocodiles from lakes, buying monkeys and macaws from the illegal black market to raise around the lodges, keeping ocelots as mascots, and even paying natives to keep anacondas and other animals in crude pens in their backyard. The selfie craze has spread this appalling type of tourism all over the region, from Iquitos and Manaus to Puerto Maldonado.
As a pioneer of conservation in the Iquitos region for over 30 years, we have long heard about cheap petting zoos, fake reserves, and backyard “exotic pets.” However, it appears that in this selfie obsessed time we are living, these practices are starting to become commonplace in the Amazon Region. Amazonia Expeditions is currently one of the few if only, ecotourism companies out of Iquitos to strictly prohibit physical contact with wildlife. There is nothing more amazing than seeing a troop of Red Bald Uakaris thrashing through the treetops, seeing a beautiful Paradise Tanager right before your eyes, perhaps see a sloth swimming across the river. Wild animals should stay wild. We hope that someday all ecotour companies can make the ethical decision to implement strict no-contact policies, but until then, there are some ways that you can help to prevent this animal cruelty.
What can you do?
Here are a few things you can do to help stop Selfie Safaris:
- Share this blog with others, help spread awareness.
- Only travel with a reputable tour company that ensures they do not promote the handling or harassment of wild animals.
- Do not share, like, or promote animal selfies on social media.
- If you are traveling to the Amazon region with a tourism company other than our own and see such terrible practices, please complain about these unethical practices! Not only is it unethical, but In Peru, it is also illegal to make money from a captive wild animal.