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The power of sharing (on social media)

Scroll, scroll, like…scroll, comment…scroll, scroll, share. Even without a description, many people know what activity is being referred to. 

Social media has become a prevalent part of our society. Almost everyone in the United States has at least one account with the various social media platforms. As of 2016, Facebook has over 1.8 billion active users worldwide. With such a wide reach, it is important to know how to use social media responsibly when it comes to wildlife.  

The rise in social media use has been linked to a rise in the illegal exotic pet trade. We are all drawn to posts with pictures and videos of cute animals. However, when the post involves a monkey, tiger, or other exotic animal as a pet, that post is actually doing harm.  

These photos and videos send the misleading message that exotic animals make good pets. The posts leave out so much information, such as: tiger cubs eventually grow into large, dangerous adult tigers; monkeys will use the entire house as their bathroom; fennec foxes are smelly, loud, and destructive. These snapshots of the exotic pet’s life leave out the improper conditions in which they are often kept. In addition, these posts are also directly linked with a spike in animals being taken directly from the wild to be entered into the pet trade.  

A few years ago, videos of a slow loris being tickled went viral. Viewers liked, shared, and commented on what they thought was a “cute” video of an exotic pet having a nice interaction with its owner. What viewers didn’t realize was that the slow loris was demonstrating a defensive behavior and did not enjoy being “tickled.” The slow loris, like many other wild animals kept as pets, has suffered drastically due to social media fueling the desire to own one as a pet.   

Sharing these posts inadvertently encourages the illegal exotic pet trade. There is a direct link to “cute” exotic pet posts on social media leading to an increase in animals being taken directly from the wild to be entered into the pet trade.  You can help: Skip the Share button and just keep scrolling. 

Sharing animal posts on social media isn’t all bad. Now that you understand the power of the share button, you can use that power to help wild animals: 

  • Share videos and photos that show wild animals in the wild, or in properly designed habitats from AZA-accredited institutions. 
  • Share posts that teach you about the animal. 
  • Share posts from conservation organizations working to save species in the wild. 
  • Share photos showcasing photos that you have taken responsibly of animals in the wild. 
  • Share posts that provide ways you can directly help with conservation efforts. 

More tips for responsible animal photos (including the coveted animal selfies): 

  • Animals should always be at a proper distance from the photographer. Animals in the wild should not be disturbed by humans trying to get too close for photo opportunities. 
  • Avoid taking photos in situations where the human or animal is in harm’s way. 
  • AZA zoos and aquariums are great places to take photos of animals in human care, that are responsible stewards of animals, and have safety protocols. 
  • Wild (“exotic”) animals should not be hugged or restrained.  Big cats and bears, even as cubs, and primates like lemurs and monkeys, and many other species should not be held. AZA zoos and aquariums have policies in place that regulate animal contact with the public, including which species require “protected contact,” meaning any interactions should only happen through a barrier. This is your best option for an educational animal encounter that puts the animals’ well-being and human safety first. 
  • National Parks are excellent places to take photos of the wild in the United States, but keep in mind that there are no barriers. The National Park Service offers 7 Ways to Safely Watch Wildlife and How to Keep Safety in the Picture
     
    When it comes to exotic animals on the internet, remember to use social media responsibly! 
     
    References:

Haysom, S. (2018, June 7). Digitally Enhanced Responses. Geneva, Switzerland; Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime. https://globalinitiative.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/TGIATOC-Digital-Responses-Report-WEB.pdf 

Pamich, C. (2020, July 10). The Ultimate Sloth Selfie Code. The Sloth Conservation Foundation. Date accessed 2021, June 6.  https://slothconservation.org/the-ultimate-sloth-selfie-code/
Zoo Atlanta. (2020, May). Help stop the illegal exotic pet trade. Interpretive Resource Library. Date accessed 2021, June 6.  https://sites.google.com/zooatlanta.org/interpretive-resource-library/interpretive-resources/conservation-messaging-appendix/help-stop-the-illegal-exotic-pet-trade.  
 
 Kimberly Rodgers
Interpretive Programs Supervisor

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl