Photo Taking with Animals

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.

Wildlife may be offered for photo taking with tourists via feeding and petting sessions in zoos and resorts. In some countries wildlife used for photo souvenirs may also be found on beaches, streets and other tourist hotspots.

What is it?

A souvenir of your trip has far more severe implications for the cute young animal in the picture. It was most probably drugged – a mammal would typically have had its claws and/ or its canine teeth removed in addition to being chained. Birds will have had their wings clipped and reptiles will have venom removed by “daily milking”.

Once the animals “cuteness” disappears (as it matures) it will be replaced by another infant – often poached illegally from the wild. The original animal is usually killed or sold for its meat or body parts.

What you should know

  • Animals can be subject to long hours everyday, with continuous streams of tourists taking turns to have their photos taken with them.
  • The stress of repeatedly handling wild animals often has a detrimental effect on their health and welfare.
  • Wild animals used as photographic props are frequently drugged by immobilisers, which has serious implications for their health. Drugs may be concealed in props such as baby’s bottles.
  • Many potentially dangerous animals reportedly have their mouths wired shut, or are chained so tightly that they are barely able to move for many hours at a time.
  • Larger animals such as tigers or bears may be declawed. Declawing is a painful surgical procedure in which not just the nail but a portion of bone is removed; in some cases tendons are also severed. Declawing is illegal in many countries as it often results in chronic pain and permanent lameness.
  • Primates may have their canine teeth removed for the safety of handlers and participants. This is a painful procedure which can cause chronic health problems.
  • Out of sight of tourists, wild animals may be chained or confined to tiny, bare cages, with little care.
  • Many animals are wild-caught and removed from their mothers prematurely. Sometimes whole family groups will be killed to take just one baby animal.
  • The young animals are often over-handled, starved and stressed from the numerous tourists, street traffic, noise and lights.
  • Wildlife is also used for begging or tips from tourists in exchange for a photo. Busy tourist sites, beaches, restaurants and bars are some of the commonly targeted areas. Tourists may be asked to purchase food from the handler to feed to their animals, or pay to have a photo taken.
  • Close contact with wild animals can cause serious illnesses. Salmonella from reptiles and birds, hepatitis and monkey pox from primates and mycobacterium sp. from dolphins are just some of the diseases that can be passed on to humans through close contact with wild animals. Children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with compromised immunity are most at risk.
  • Accidents involving people and captive wild animals are surprisingly common worldwide. Wild animals are unpredictable and may become aggressive and cause injury. There have been several cases of larger animals, such as elephant and tigers, causing serious injuries and even killing people during photographic sessions.

What you can do

  • Do not patronise places that use any wild animal as a prop for tourist photographs
  • Never pay to feed or pose with a wild animal

Where does this occur?

Photo opportunities with animals are offered all over the world. The activity is particularly common in South East Asia (eg. Thailand, Malaysia), China, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Eastern Europe and the Caribbean Islands.

This article was part contributed by the Born Free Foundation

  • Born Free