The selfie culture has become a worldwide phenomenon over the last decade, fueled by a narcissistic need for people to share every second of their life on social media. Coupled with a sense of self-entitlement and a complete lack of awareness, this has led to increasingly irresponsible travel behavior in the form of animal selfies, which contribute to wildlife exploitation and animal abuse on a global scale.
Far too many travelers setting off on their round-the-world adventures have dreams of getting their picture taken with a cute baby sloth or a panda. People will often venture to a specific destination just to get a selfie with a tiger or elephant, filling their social media feed with pictures of how awesome they are to impress their friends and family back home.
They see their photo of them straddling a grown tiger or hugging a cute little koala bear as evidence of their love for animals and proof of their amazing adventures. And of course making friends jealous via Facebook or Instagram can be a massive boost to the ego. But at what cost?
Here, we’ll take a look at the rise of animal selfies and the myriad ways in which they contribute to the abuse and exploitation of wildlife.
(The following is a guest post from Bob Ramsak, the journalist/photographer behind the PiranCafe travel blog. You can also follow Bob’s adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you’re a travel blogger interested in guest posting on GGT, please email pitches to Bret [email protected] We do not accept guest posts from for-profit companies.)
If you’re among the increasing number of people who are visiting Ljubljana, Slovenia these days, the loudest noise you’ll likely hear in the heart of the capital city’s old town center will be the clanging of a bicycle traveling across the cobblestone of the central Preseren Square.
Or perhaps the laughter of children as they’re guided by their teachers across the city’s landmark Art Nouveau Triple Bridge, which spans the Ljubljanica River. Or the chants of demonstrators voicing their grievances under the watchful eye of Slovenia’s national poet France Preseren, the Romantic for whom the square was named.
Just eight years ago the cobblestone streets of this part of Ljubljana (pronounced Lyoo-BLYAH-nah) were awash with cars and buses. Fast-forward less than a decade and much of the city’s main central zone is largely car-free, save for city service vehicles or “Kavalirs,” the electric-powered, golf cart-sized trams that shuttle visitors to small shops, cafes, and boutique hotels that now dot the old town center.
These changes have already decreased carbon emissions in one main traffic corridor by 58%. That’s one of the reasons why Ljubljana– a city of 280,000 people that few have heard of– was selected by the European Commission as the European Green Capital for 2016.
Last summer I was working at a green summer camp near the colonial city of Antigua, Guatemala, which– aside from being one of Central America’s tourism hotspots– is world- famous for producing some of the best coffee in the world.
In Antigua, the temperature is just right all the time, the altitude is spot-on and those rich volcanic soils from all sides blend together to make a knock-out cup of java. That’s why Guatemala, particularly Antigua, has become a buzzword in coffeehouses ranging from Seattle to Hong Kong and Moscow to New York.
To my coffee-loving delight, the Green Camp at which I was working was located on the grounds of a freshly opened school inside of one of Antigua’s most well-known coffee fincas: Azotea. In fact, the little plot of land that the camp was given to build a garden demonstrating permaculture principles was surrounded by coffee trees.
Everything seemed peachy keen. But, in reality, Central American coffee farmers are suffering greatly of late, all due to a fungal disease called “la roya” (the rust). Unfortunately, some 50% of the harvest is being lost each year, which equates to millions of bags of coffee.
Elephants in Africa, particularly in Tanzania, have faced a devastating population drop in recent years. This is primarily due to a rapid rise in elephant poachers killing them for their ivory tusks in order to meet the increasing demand in Asia.
The elephant population has diminished by nearly 60% in a matter of five years, according to National Geographic. In 2009, the population consisted of 109,051 elephants, but that number had dropped to 43,330 last year. Some suggest that this drop may be due to migration, but such a rapid population decrease can only be explained by increased poaching all across East and South Africa.
However, a slew of recent arrests, initiatives and policy changes suggest that the people of Tanzania– and around the world– are finally ready to take serious action to reduce elephant poaching.
In what The Guardian calls “the worst manmade environmental disaster since the BP gulf oil spill,” vast swaths of vital forests in Borneo and Sumatra are being consumed by fire. These fires were intentionally set by palm oil and paper companies, simply because slash & burn agriculture is the cheapest, fastest way to clear land for plantations.
But these fires in Indonesia– tens of thousands of them– are raging out of control due to record drought throughout the region. In places like Pematang Gadung and Sungai Besar, where the forests are filled with orangutans and other endangered species, some animals have died from smoke inhalation, while others have been poached or abducted into the illegal wildlife trade. But a precious few are being rescued by non-profit organizations such as International Animal Rescue.
But it’s not just animal life that’s endangered: The toxic haze from Indonesia’s fires has created a thick layer of smog over the entire country. The city of Palangkaraya has become one of the most polluted places on the planet, and locals are literally choking on the devastating effects of unchecked corporate greed. Experts believe the impact of carbon released from these burning peat forests on climate change will be catastrophic if something isn’t done soon.
“The problem with fire and smoke is absolutely dire,” says IAR communications manager Lis Key. “Orangutans are badly affected by the smoke. Some suffer upper respiratory tract infections, which can prove fatal. Some of the babies we’ve taken in recently have been suffering from dehydration and malnourishment through lack of food, as well as breathing problems from the polluted air.”
Last week IAR sent out a desperate plea for help drawing international attention to (and financial support for) their fire-fighting and orangutan rescue efforts. To get a boots-on-the-ground insider’s perspective on the struggle, we spoke to Karmele Llano Sanchez, Program Director of IAR’s Indonesian initiatives (Yayasan IAR Indonesia).