Born free launches campaign to end ‘selfish selfies’

1 June 2023


Born Free exposes the plight of wild animals exploited as souvenir photo props and calls on the British public to pledge not to take ‘Selfish Selfies’ on their summer holidays.

A man with blurred out face poses with a chained monkey, a graphic shows a mobile phone with the writing 'Stop Selfish Selfies'

As thousands of Britons prepare to head abroad on their holidays in the coming months, Born Free is calling on holidaymakers to back its campaign to end the cruel, exploitative, and dangerous practice of using wild animals for souvenir photos, by pledging not to take ‘Selfish Selfies’ this summer.

Around the world, countless captive creatures are being abused and exploited for financial gain at tourist hotspots, attractions, and zoos. This exploitation is capitalising on the public’s ‘love’ of animals, their desire to get close to, and even touch, wild, exotic species, and to have that moment captured on camera.

However, many holidaymakers are unaware of the poor conditions and barbaric treatment these animals often experience. Distressingly, the rise of social media and the aspiration for the perfect selfie, or timeline shot, is now perpetuating this brutal, money-making industry.

The true extent of the cruelty behind the camera clicks in the captive animal photo industry is revealed in Born Free’s powerful report, ‘Selfish Selfies: The Exploitation of Captive Wild Animals for Souvenir Photos’, released today.

The study highlights the serious animal welfare issues, threats to species in the wild, and the public health and safety risks associated with the use of captive wild animals as living props.

While the cruelty may not be immediately evident, animals exploited as photo props may have been subject to any number of cruel practices, including:

  • Capture from the wild: Photo prop animals are often forcibly removed from their mothers and family groups as babies.
  • Mutilation: Many have their teeth and claws removed to stop them biting or scratching, and birds may have their wings clipped or pinioned to prevent them flying away.
  • Manipulation: Photo prop animals may be dressed up, chained, tethered or even sedated using drugs, often concealed in feeding bottles.
  • Distress: Constant handling and exposure to sun, noise, camera flashes and crowds can be extremely stressful.
  • Poor housing and care: Photo prop animals may be forced to live in cramped conditions, often suffer malnutrition, and lack medical treatment.

Many animals used for photo opportunities are the innocent victims of the illegal wildlife trade and are taken from the wild, often using cruel trapping methods, or torn from their family groups. Their mothers and other group members may be killed or injured while trying to defend their babies. These terrified, defenceless animals are stuffed into sacks or cages and taken away to be sold. This horrific trade directly impacts the worrying decrease in populations of endangered, threatened and vulnerable species.

‘Selfish Selfies: The Exploitation of Captive Wild Animals for Souvenir Photos’ lays bare the danger and distress caused to the animals involved. But the report also highlights another, less apparent, danger: the potential harm to human health. The high risk posed to people from contact with captive wild animals cannot be underestimated. Wild animals are naturally unpredictable and dangerous, particularly when they are stressed and kept in appalling conditions. As a result, there have been incidents where direct contact with captive wild animals, including posing with animals for photos and selfies, has resulted in human injury and even death.

The report also underlines concerns about the spread of disease. Many animals are carriers of zoonotic pathogens, organisms that can spread from animals to people. These pathogens are most likely to spread in situations where the animals are distressed and in close contact with people, such as during photo prop sessions. There are hundreds of zoonotic diseases that can spread from animals to humans, including rabies, hepatitis, botulism and salmonellosis, and close contact with an animal may cause infection or the disease to spread.

Born Free is determined to end this dangerous and exploitative industry and is asking the public to take a stand and not have a photo taken with, or pose for selfies with, captive wild animals. To show your support, visit our ‘Stop Selfish Selfies’ page and sign our pledge.


Will Travers OBE, Born Free’s Co-Founder and Executive President said, “Selfish Selfies, the taking of selfie photos with captive live animals, has been one of the least understood forms of animal abuse, until now. It seems such an innocent activity and yet, as our report shows, the negative impacts on the health and welfare of the animals involved, and on the people taking part, who risk injury or the possibility of contracting a disease, and who, without realising it, are perpetuating a brutal and cruel activity that causes immense trauma and suffering, can no longer be ignored. I would urge everyone to read the report and to pledge never to have their photo taken with a captive wild animal, however tempting it may be. I also call on all social media platforms to make the publishing of a Selfish Selfie, a reportable animal cruelty issue.”

Dr Mark Jones, Born Free’s Head of Policy added, “The chance to get as close as possible to wild animals, perhaps even touch and hold them, is often a strong temptation. This temptation is exploited by those wanting to profit at the expense of the animals involved and it has sadly become increasingly common for captive wild animals to be used as living props for souvenir photos and selfie opportunities at popular tourist destinations and attractions around the world. People might question what real harm that one quick ‘must have’ photo could cause, but it should be remembered that there are many other people handling or posing with the same animal, every single day, with serious health and welfare implications for the animals, health and safety risks for any people involved, and threats to species in the wild.”

Sarah Jefferson, Born Free’s Captivity Campaigns Information Coordinator, concluded, “Born Free strongly advises people not to support the animal photo prop industry or pose for selfies with captive wild animals. We receive hundreds of tourist reports via our Raise the Red Flag platform concerning the use of animals for souvenir photos and we encourage people to speak out when they witness such exploitation and to voice their concerns further with their tour operator or travel agent, to any zoo or facility involved, and to the relevant tourism authorities in the country they are visiting. We need people to take action to bring this cruel exploitation to an end.”