Photos with captive wild animals

Seeing wildlife on vacation is a real highlight, but in many places across the world wild animals are offered as photo props for travelers to pose with. To some, this may seem like a harmless way for locals to make money from tourists, but the impact on the animals can be more than meets the eye. Our friends at The Born Free Foundation tell us why we shouldn’t support these kinds of operations.

The issues
A popular souvenir in many resorts around the world, the use of wild animals for tourists’ photos can have a serious impact on the welfare of the animals involved. Repeated handling by humans is very stressful to wild animals, and in most cases the animal will have been removed from its mother at a very early age.

When they are no longer charismatic and cute, or easy to handle, these animals often end up in slum zoos, circuses or even being killed. Some may be sold on to canned hunting reserves – or to have their body parts used in traditional Chinese medicine. Potentially dangerous animals such as lion cubs are routinely drugged, and have claws and teeth removed to protect human participants. Animals can even have their mouths wired shut and be chained so tightly they can barely move. Despite these precautions, there are considerable risks to people. In China and Thailand, tourists and keepers have been mauled and even killed by captive tigers – which they may be sitting next to for photos. Young children are even encouraged to sit on tigers’ backs. Participants are also at risk of contracting many serious diseases when handling wild animals. Read more about the risks of interacting with animals on Born Free’s site here.

Tiger temple
Tourist posing for photos at the Tiger temple, Thailand. Photo by S B
Born Free’s response
The Born Free Foundation aims to raise greater awareness about the plight of wild animals used as photographic props, and asks that both the public and the tour operator remains vigilant, providing Born Free with detailed reports on these activities, their location and which animals are involved. With the help of Responsible Travel and other vacation companies, the Born Free Foundation hopes to discourage hotel resorts and excursions from allowing the use of animals as photographic props, and together eradicate this form of animal exploitation.

Zoo Check is Born Free’s programme which works to prevent the suffering of captive animals. Every summer, Zoo Check hears from tourists approached by photographers offering to take their photograph with animals ranging from lion cubs and monkeys, to bears and alligators.

What you can do
Have you seen animals in poor conditions in a zoo, or abused in a circus or dolphinarium? Did you experience bad practice during a wildlife safari or viewing excursion? Are you concerned about a dancing bear you’ve seen, or animals in a side show or used as a photographic prop? Born Free wants to hear from YOU. The more information we receive the more animals we can try to help.

If you’d like to report animals suffering and neglect please go directly to the complaints form here.

You can also call the travelers’ animal alert hotline on 0845 003 5960 night or day or alternatively email to report your concerns about animal suffering and neglect. Provide as much detail as possible and your report could make a real difference to an animal in need.

About Born Free
The Born Free Foundation is an international wildlife charity devoted to compassionate conservation and animal welfare. Born Free takes action worldwide to protect threatened species and stop individual animal suffering and neglect. Born Free believes wildlife belongs in the wild and works to phase out zoos. We rescue animals from lives of misery in tiny cages and give them lifetime care.
Written by Justin Francis
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