DDPE86 Closeup of a three-toed sloth, Costa Rica Image Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

Some of the Amazon’s most endangered creatures are under threat from the growing trend of tourists taking ‘wild animal selfies’, according to a new investigation by the charity World Animal Protection.

Selfies with animals has become a trend in recent years, with a 292 per cent increase in the number of images posted to Instagram from 2014 to the present. However, behind the scenes, animals are kept in cruel conditions with many dying soon after being snatched from their natural habitat.

More than 40 per cent of images taken are what are referred to as ‘bad’ wildlife selfies: Photos that feature someone hugging, holding or inappropriately interacting with a wild animal.

World Animal Protection sent investigators to the Manaus, Brazil, and Puerto Alegria, Peru, to establish the extent of the problem. It found evidence of irresponsible tour operators and cruelty being inflicted on wild animals used to provide photo opportunities for tourists that pay for the experience.

Evidence of cruelty included:

Sloths captured from the wild, tied to trees with rope, not surviving longer than six months

Birds, such as toucans, with severe abscesses on their feet

Green anacondas wounded and dehydrated

Caimans restrained with rubber bands around their jaws

An ocelot (a type of wild cat) kept in a small barren cage

A manatee held in a tiny tank in the forecourt of a local hotel

A giant anteater manhandled and beaten by its owner

Wildlife tourism in Latin America is extensive. Research by the charity found that more than half of 249 attractions it looked at online offered direct contact with wild animals. It was particularly concerned at the use of sloths as ‘props’ in photos. According to the charity, the animal is particularly vulnerable to human interaction and there is ‘good reason to believe”’ that most sloths being used for tourist selfies don’t survive beyond six months of this treatment.

‘It’s extremely distressing to see animals being stolen from the wild and used as photo props for posting on social media,’ says global wildlife adviser Dr Neil D’Cruze from World Animal Protection. ‘The growing demand for harmful wildlife selfies is not only a serious animal welfare concern but also a conservation concern. Our online review of this kind of practice in Latin America found that more than 20 per cent of the species involved are threatened by extinction and more than 60 per cent are protected by international law.’

As well as calling on governments to enforce existing laws and ensure travel companies and tour operators abide by them, the charity is also launching a Wildlife Selfie Code to teach tourists how to take a photo with a wild animal without contributing to cruelty. This means refraining from taking a selfie with an animal that is being held, hugged or restrained, is being baited with food, or has the possibility of causing harm to someone. Selfies with wild animals should be taken from a safe distance to the animal, which should be in its natural habitat, free to move and not being held captive.

Steve McIvor, CEO at World Animal Protection said: ‘The wildlife selfie craze is a worldwide phenomenon fuelled by tourists, many of whom are unaware of the abhorrent conditions and terrible treatment wild animals can endure to provide that special souvenir photo.’

He added: ‘Behind the scenes wild animals are being taken from their mothers as babies and secretly kept in filthy, cramped conditions or repeatedly baited with food, causing severe psychological trauma.’