Why Wildlife Selfies Are Actually Terrible

A conservationist posing with a chimpanzee, a deep sea diver smiling alongside a green turtle or a manta ray, and devastatingly, a group of people scrambling to have their chance of flashing a thumbs-up sign beside a manatee (or in some internet videos, an actual baby dolphin) that washed up onshore. These are just some examples of people taking selfies with wildlife. And while majority of them (save for the last one) seem like a harmless idea, new research states how they’re all actually terrible.

Taking photos of animals, especially ones that we find cute, have always been around ever since humans discovered how to make cameras much more compact. And for the most part, it’s harmless, as long as there is no flash and the animal is in no way disturbed. In fact, some rangers even see taking photos of wildlife as something that can help their conservation efforts.

However, it’s not until the rise of front cameras that humans decided they can be a part of the photo too. Of course, it’s not always the worst thing in the world. Snapping a quick selfie alongside a parrot that talks in the zoo can be pretty neat.

A majority of it however, can be quite detrimental and harmful to animals, especially ones that are in the wild. This is because doing so can disrupt an animal’s behavior, might make them feel threatened or even cause some form of internal emotional distress that can affect their natural lifestyles. After all, you wouldn’t want some random person to come chase you with a camera as you’re taking your baby for a stroll, would you?

Last week, at the International Penguin Conference, Prof. Philip Seddon, director of a wildlife management program at Otago University, New Zealand, described that this rise in fascination of taking selfies with wildlife is becoming ‘scary.’

While the professor acknowledged that some of these photos can help with conservation efforts, misunderstanding the context is still prevalent, especially in social media. Per Seddon, some viewers might only see it as an invitation for them to take their own.

“We have an increasingly urbanized population around the world who are alienated from the natural world and whose access to wildlife is commoditized and sanitized and made safe. So we’re seeing these very strange behaviors that seem weird to us as biologist – such as posing your child on a wild animal,” he said previously, commenting on the modern world’s lack of connection with nature.

And while it’s clear that this means more education is needed to teach people about crossing some lines, change starts in us, so keep your phone in your pocket and just admire the view.

pet turtle Turtles, a common pet reptile, could carry a high risk of severe Salmonella infection. Courtesy of ShutterStock