Don’t take a selfie with a sloth. Don’t hop in the water to pout adjacent to a stingray. If a man wanders towards you with a giant snake on his shoulder, writhing and slithering, and asks if you want to take a picture, don’t do it.
Animals just want to live their lives on this wretched earth free from the grubby hands of humanity, but the rise of wildlife entertainment tourism means that they can’t. A report from the World Society for Protection of Animals revealed some disturbing data about how we humans are really fucking it up for the animals, who, as I mentioned, are just trying to live—all in the name of selfies.
According to the report, the number of “wildlife selfies” featuring endangered species like toucans, sloths, and anteaters on Instagram has increased by an astonishing 292 percent since 2014. The keepers of these animals steal them from the jungle in places like Brazil and Peru, and house them in inhumane conditions—chaining sloths to trees and stuffing manatees in tiny tanks. Then tourists come tromping through the forest with their cameraphones and their PopSockets and their sunburn, clamoring for digital proof that they let a sloth drape its furry body over their shoulder as if it actually liked them. The keeper trots the animal out for profit; the human is happy and walks back to their hotel, feeling the comforting buzz of thousands and thousands of likes from their #slothpic. The sloth returns to its life of misery.
“The wildlife selfie craze is a worldwide phenomenon fueled by tourists, many of whom are unaware of the abhorrent conditions and terrible treatment wild animals may endure to provide that special souvenir photo,” World Animal Protection CEO Steve McIvor said in a statement. Listen to Mr. McIvor. For the record, there are what the organization considers “good” animal selfies: any image where the human is not touching the animal and the animal is not being used as a prop. Reasonable. Makes sense.
Lesson learned: If a man on the side of the road in Saint Augustine tells you that he’ll take you to a lagoon full of manatees that love to be embraced by human beings, don’t listen to that man. Leave the animals alone. Let them live in peace.