Social Media Wildlife Selfies Pose Threat To Animals: Recent Study

The study by Princeton University researchers reveals that sharing wildlife selfies on social media poses a threat to animals by contributing to illegal trafficking and harmful human-wildlife interactions
Sharing wildlife selfies on social media poses a threat to animals
Sharing wildlife selfies on social media poses a threat to animalsShutterstock

In the age of social media, the practice of sharing wildlife selfies, even when accompanied by scientist-authored posts and papers, is proving harmful to animals, contributing to illegal trafficking and detrimental human-wildlife interactions. This revelation comes from a study conducted by primatologist Andrea L. DiGiorgio and ecologist Cathryn Freund at Princeton University.

The Pitfalls Of Human-Wildlife Interaction

The researchers argue that while social media platforms can be valuable tools for scientists to raise awareness about endangered species and secure funding, the potential negative consequences for wildlife cannot be ignored. Their study focused on the impact of captions accompanying images featuring humans alongside wild animals, particularly infant animals or those engaging with humans.

Guidelines from the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Section on Human-Primate Interactions recommend that scientists clarify their roles in photos with captions stating their expertise. However, the effectiveness of these measures was questioned in the study.

What Does The Study Say?

In a 2023 experiment, over 3,000 adults were shown mock Instagram posts, some with basic captions and others with detailed captions emphasising the research context. Surprisingly, regardless of the caption content, more than half of the viewers expressed a desire to seek similar experiences or even own the featured animals as pets.

The researchers argue that media, especially social media, plays a significant role in harmful human encounters with wildlife and contributes to the illegal exotic pet trade. They cite examples such as the "Harry Potter" franchise leading to an increase in the illegal owl trade in Indonesia and videos of people handling lorises, driving illegal captures and sales.

Furthermore, the study reveals that even well-intentioned efforts, such as showcasing infant orangutans in conservation videos, may inadvertently result in negative outcomes. Viewers expressed less support for orangutan conservation and a greater desire to own or interact with these animals.

The report emphasises the potential transmission of diseases between humans and wildlife, stressing that human presence, especially in close contact or handling, induces stress reactions and alters animal behaviour negatively. The authors argue that owning wild animals as pets exacerbates these issues and contributes to the degradation of animal health and natural behaviours.

What's The Solution?

In light of their findings, the researchers recommend a shift in the social media practices of scientists. They advocate for the selection of images featuring only wildlife in natural contexts or individuals in the field without direct interaction with animals. Additionally, scientists are encouraged to review and edit their social media history, removing or cropping images that depict human-wildlife interaction.

Ultimately, the study urges scientists to proactively educate the public about the potential harm caused by wildlife selfies and lead by example in promoting responsible wildlife conservation practices on social media platforms.

(With inputs from PTI)

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