Touching, holding, feeding, riding, bathing, having a photograph with, or swimming or walking with captive wild animals: the ways in which we can now interact with animals for our amusement seems limitless.
These activities are frequently marketed by zoos and other visitor attractions as educational or to raise funds for conservation, but, in truth, animals may be exploited purely for financial profit. Many animals are also touted as props for souvenir photographs at captive facilities, holiday resorts, hotels and busy tourist hot spots.
These activities can have serious animal welfare implications and pose real risks to both animal and public health and safety.
Repeated handling and the close proximity to humans can be extremely stressful to animals. Interaction activities often involve huge crowds of people and high levels of noise, with animals passed from person to person throughout the day, every day.
Many animals may endure cruel treatment or training before, during, and after their use in interaction activities. They are often transported over large distances, in small cages, subjected to extreme temperatures, and frequently live in appalling conditions. Animals may also be tethered, chained or even physically mutilated to enable easier handling.
The futures of many animals involved in interaction activities can be uncertain and, when they are no longer cute, charismatic or easy to handle, may end up in appalling captive facilities, travelling circuses, or killed.
The risks posed to people from contact with captive wild animals must never be underestimated. Whether wild-caught, captive-born, juvenile, adult, male or female, wild animals are naturally unpredictable and potentially dangerous and often pose a real risk to anyone who comes into contact with them. There have been numerous incidents where direct animal contact has resulted in human injury or death.
Many animals can harbour zoonotic diseases that are transmissible to humans and which can result in illness and even death. Often people are not informed of the potential risks when taking part in animal interaction activities.
Although many captive facilities do not actively encourage public contact, it may still occur due to lax security, poorly-designed or maintained fencing or lack of protective stand-off barriers, putting both the animals and public at risk. There have been cases where people have been injured, some seriously, after leaning into enclosures or reaching through fencing to touch or photograph animals.