Animal selfies can harm humans and wildlife

Park sign reading "Wild elk: do not approach on foot" [Credit: diaryofamadbabyboomer.com]

In the Instagram era, it’s often our first impulse to reach for our cameras when we see wildlife in the flesh. But taking selfies with wildlife can be unsafe, both for humans and animals.

The danger of trying to get an up-close shot was made very clear recently when a woman was injured while trying to take a photo with an elk. The woman was part of a group of people who came across the elk in Lone Elk Park in Missouri and immediately gathered around for a group selfie.

Nature photographer Kent Burgess saw the group approach the animal and took photos of the event, while also calling to the group to move away, as the animal was a bull elk, which can be aggressive during mating season. “It was startling,” Burgess told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I saw the dominant bull moving toward them and I tried to yell at them to get away.”

Group of people gathered around aggressive-looking elk
[Credit: Kent Burgess]

The group didn’t hear him, and the bull charged them, injuring one woman. “There was a lot of blood on her arm and on her face,” Burgess said.

Signs at the park warn people to keep away from the elk, but for many, the urge to get the perfect photo proves hard to resist.

But trying to get selfies with wildlife isn’t just dangerous for humans. A recent report from World Animal Protection says that taking selfies with animals can have a harmful impact on them, even leading to their deaths.

Case in point, two dolphins recently died after being mobbed for selfies by tourists. The WAP report notes that while there are appropriate ways to photograph wildlife, over 40% of photos they found online were “bad” wildlife selfies, that is, photos of “someone hugging, holding, or inappropriately interacting with a wild animal.”

Overall, the report indicates that if you touch a wild animal, or if you chase it for a selfie, you’re probably doing it harm. The next time you see an incredible animal out in the wild, curb the selfie impulse, and keep in mind the animal’s wildness and the potential danger it poses. Part of being a true animal lover is knowing when to respect an animal’s freedom and space.

And if you still want to get incredible photos of wild animals, do what the experts do: invest in a zoom lens.

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