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#StopAnimalSelfies: Costa Rica launches campaign against wild animal selfies
Posted on 17/11/2019

EnvironmentCosta Rica

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Using the hashtag #StopAnimalSelfies, Costa Rica is trying to raise awareness of improper wildlife tourism

A brief scroll through Instagram will prove that there's huge money to be made from animal selfies. Smiling tourists sitting astride elephants, feeding lemurs, and handling puzzled sloths are all over the internet, and driving more visitors to seek out wild animals for social media content.

While the photos may look wholesome and cuddly, the Costa Rican government is hoping to highlight the dangers of the practice.



The Costa Rican Institute and the Costa Rican Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE) have launched a social media campaign to deter tourists from handling wild animals or getting too close to them.

Speaking with CNN Travel, the Vice Minister of MINAE said that "our visitors must know the negative impact caused by selfies and photos showing direct contact with wild animals."

Instead of live animals, MINAE and the Costa Rican Institute are encouraging visitors to take and post photographs of themselves with stuffed animal toys, and promote the hashtag #StopAnimalSelfies on social media. An ad promoting the initiative shows a smiling woman holding a sloth plush toy. The caption reads "This sloth loves selfies. A real one does not!"

What's wrong with animal selfies?

What's wrong with animal selfies?
Charles Wollertz/123RF

Wild animals and natural wonders have always been a big selling point for biodiverse Costa Rica. The majority of the country's tourists come from the US and Canada, and almost all are searching for an ecotourism experience.

But ecotourism and wildlife tourism can be two very different things. In the eyes of Costa Rica's tourism ministry, they seem to become conflated when it comes to wildlife selfies. Wildlife encounters for the purposes of tourism can have a negative impact on the animals' health and environment. Unexpectedly picking up or touching wild animals can frighten them at best, and at worst can spread disease.

Due to the demand for wild animal photographs, individuals looking to turn a profit have even begun capturing animals from their habitats and placing them in captivity to serve tourists. This can be particularly dangerous for animals like giant sloths, the majority of whom often die within a short time after being removed from their habitat. In fact, sloths actually exhibit signs of tachycardia when they are handled by individuals they do not recognize.

Alternatives to animal selfies

Alternatives to animal selfies
Ignasi Such/123RF

Keeping a safe distance from wild animals is almost universally recommended and a number of responsible tour companies offer wildlife experiences that do not involve handling animals or disturbing them.

For example, Sloth Sanctuary, located on Costa Rica's Atlantic coast, is a facility that takes care of abandoned, injured and orphaned sloths. Opened in 1992, the sanctuary doubles as an education center, offering canoe rides with a local guide and viewing of the sanctuary. Visitors can look, but only staff may handle the sloths.