Wildlife Selfies: Are they really worth a like?

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We’ve all seen it – Social media today is riddled with pictures and videos of our friends, celebrities and other influencers “celebrating nature” by snapping themselves with their favourite wild animals. Maybe it was the neighbour, sharing her first experience with Koala’s while on holiday in Australia? Perhaps it was a classmate, ‘discovering himself’ with elephants on his gap year in Thailand. It might have even been a family member, sending you updates as they tick ‘swimming with dolphins’ off the bucket list.

It’s common knowledge that pictures of animals get the most attention on social media today and for many it brings them joy, serving as a reminder that the wilderness is still out there, as is the possibility that humans and animals can live harmoniously in it. However, are these pictures truly innocent in nature? Or are they just innocent in intention? A new paper published in Current Issues in Tourism by lead author and WCA Partner Chantal Pagel from marine-wildlife.org along with Mark B. Orams and Michael Lück, sheds light on just how much damage we are doing by invading the personal space of creatures around the world to get that perfect wildlife shot.

Read up on Chantal’s findings here.


Capturing images has long been recognized as influential in wildlife tourism experiences. With the ubiquity of Web 2.0 in people’s everyday lives, images can now be shared instantaneously via social media platforms. The quest for ‘photo-trophies’ that can be liked, shared and reproduced may influence how tourists behave around wildlife. Trends such as the ‘wildlife selfie’, which requires closeness to unpredictable animal species, is gaining popularity and may contribute to harassment of wildlife. This paper reports on qualitative research involving tour providers offering in-water encounters with marine wildlife and their experiences of the influence of social media on their clients’ behaviour. Semi-structured interviews with operators at three case study sites in the South Pacific revealed a consistent theme of ‘pushy’ behaviour displayed by skilled wildlife photographers and social media ‘influencers’. Such behaviour fosters the potential for wildlife harassment and provoking animal behaviour that could pose hazard for people. The operators interviewed identified professional wildlife photographers and influencers being most likely to ignore safety instructions and guidelines. The findings illustrate that investigating operator-client relationships from the perspective of the operator can provide important insights into tourist behaviour. Inappropriate or ignorant conduct can then be targeted through specific communication and management strategies.

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