by Shannon Farley
Costa Rica is known for being home to some of the world’s cutest animals, like sloths and monkeys. Lately, though, more and more tourists are trying to take Instagram selfies posing with these wild animals.
So, the Costa Rica Tourism Board and the Ministry of Environment and Energy launched a campaign at the end of October called #stopanimalselfies to discourage tourists from the practice. The campaign is part of a global action to end animal selfies and other cruel animal treatment – like elephant rides, etc. – and to support wildlife conservation.
“Our visitors must know the negative impact caused by selfies and photos showing direct contact with wild animals,” said Pamela Castillo, Vice Minister of Costa Rica’s Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE) in interviews.
“Direct contact with wild animals can represent a risk to people and generate stress and suffering to the animals,” Castillo added. “Animals can also carry illnesses or get sick by pathogens transmitted by human beings; for these reasons it is necessary to keep a safe distance when they are seen in their natural habitat or sanctuaries and respect their natural behavior.”
Thanks to J.Lobón for this photo
Veragua Rainforest joins with ICT and MINAE to stop animal selfies in Costa Rica. The rainforest eco-adventure park is committed to upholding Costa Rica’s new wildlife law that prohibits anyone from handling wild animals, unless they are specifically trained and authorized to do so, said José Andrés Salazar-Zúñiga, Research Coordinator for the Foundation for Rainforest Research at Veragua.
Costa Rica is home to more than 5 percent of the species in the world and is a pioneer in biodiversity preservation. More than 1.7 million tourists visit Costa Rica every year, mostly for ecotourism, and go to Costa Rica’s national parks in search of monkeys, sloths, toucans and other wildlife.
A 2017 study from the World Animal Protection organization placed Costa Rica in seventh place in the world where “inappropriate” wildlife photos are taken.
“We congratulate the government of Costa Rica for leading one of the most ambitious initiatives and promoting responsible tourism in the region and in the world. We would like to see more countries take these types of actions and show the same degree of responsibility to protect animals, when conducting animal friendly campaigns. The tourists who visit these places are not aware of the cruelty that these animals suffer just for a photo,” said Roberto Vieto, Wildlife Manager of World Animal Protection.
The Stop Animal Selfies Campaign urges tourists not to offer any food to wild animals, to avoid trying to capture them, to not make loud noises or throw objects at animals to try to get their attention, and to never touch, grab or hold an animal in the wild or in a sanctuary or rescue center.
Beyond possibly scaring the animals that are not usually used to humans, which could lead to persons being bitten or attacked, interaction with wild animals can lead to diseases – both animals catching them from people or humans from animals.
At the same time, wildlife watching can support species protection and help their preservation if carried out respectfully. You can visit all the places where animals live and take as many pictures as you wish, as long as you respect their natural behaviors and keep a safe distance. “You will thus care for yourself and protect the wild animals,” the Stop Animal Selfies website reads.
At Veragua Rainforest, the only persons who are authorized to handle wild animals are scientific researchers who have official research permits granted by the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC), said Salazar-Zúñiga. The permits adhere to strict ethical standards to not affect biodiversity. Further, he said, Veragua naturalist guides take training courses every year to learn how to handle different situations when there is a wild animal encounter. Besides the scientific research field station, Veragua Rainforest has frog and reptile habitats and a butterfly garden.
“Recently, one of our customers tried to take a selfie holding a frog. Veragua is full of rainforest frogs. But people don’t realize that simply having insect repellent or sunblock on their hands could cause its death. And taking photos at night with flash could permanently damage an animal’s eyes,” Salazar-Zúñiga said.
“Animals that are kept in captivity have very strict protocols for handling,” he continued. “Ethics and animal respect for me are the most important things. All animals are treated with the same level of respect, trying to give them the best possible quality of life.”
The #stopanimalselfies guide includes tips such as:
  • Watch animals from a safe distance.
  • Don’t take a photo hugging or holding an animal as it is exploitative and leads to mishandling.
  • Never take animals away from their natural habitat.
  • Don’t feed wild animals or try to get their attention with food or sounds.
  • Go on wildlife observation experiences with a trustworthy tour operator.
For those who must have their animal selfie, tourism authorities have placed favorite stuffed animals at Costa Rica’s airports and popular tourist sites as a guilt-free selfie alternative.