Last Friday one of my photos was highly commended at the GDT European Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2018.
The image, entitled "Indigenous Boy With Baby Sloth" has been awarded in the "Man and Nature" category, which aims to highlight the relationship between people and the environment. In this image, this relationship is a negative one. Namely, wildlife being captured and used for selfies.
This image of an indigenous boy holding a baby sloth is from a four-month long investigative project by World Animal Protection to assess impacts of the selfie phenomenon on wildlife. During the project it was found that many tourists unknowingly engage in unregulated, illegal and harmful selfies with wild animals, which can die prematurely due to mishandling and severe, constant stress. More awareness and responsible photography are needed to protect wildlife as ecotourism grows in the Amazon.
Many tourists visiting the Brazilian Amazon rainforest join day-tours with the specific aim of seeing native wildlife. Most are neither surprised nor upset to encounter these animals in captivity, and tour guides are quick in explaining that the local people keeping these animals do so the same way that cats and dogs are kept in more urban settings: “it’s their pet”, is the usual explanation. The same explanation is used for all animals presented in the tours, from the anacondas that are kept in empty ice coolers until it’s taken out for selfies with tourists, to the caiman alligators that have their mouth bound by a string so that they won’t bite while being held, to the baby sloths, which are too weak and slow to show any signs of displeasure and distress. Adult sloths are usually not used because their claws are strong, so these babies are separate from their parents once captured.
The high turnover of these captive animals can only be noticed when visiting the same places over a length of time. The amount of animal replacement suggests something went wrong with the previous animals. The cultural demand for selfies with wildlife is a complex cultural phenomenon which has a serious, long-lasting environmental and social impacts in places like the Brazilian rainforest.
These issues need to be understood and addressed, and working alongside World Animal Protection made me feel I was doing my part to expose and improve the situation.