It’s not just tourists. Donors, government officials, conservation presenters and celebrities must also model appropriate behavior with primates.
It’s true that tourism and global travel have been painfully curtailed by the unabated COVID-19 pandemic, and that means fewer photos of “adventurous” humans showing off selfies taken with monkeys and other primates – animals that may be highly at-risk for contracting the coronavirus too.
But other concerns over how these photographs impact wildlife aren’t new, and now the International Union of Concerned Scientists (IUCN) has issued guidelines on how to avoid the harms caused by all those selfies.
The IUCN Primate Specialist Group team, led by Siân Waters of Durham University and Susan Cheyne of Oxford Brookes in the United Kingdom, released the four-page document this month. It’s available in five languages, including French, Spanish, German and Japanese, and lays out a series of best practices not only for tourists but also for professionals.
They’re meant to curb the abuses seen in countries where the animals are illegally caught and traded, often with the adult primates killed so that more manageable juveniles – like this baby gibbon seen on a Thai beach in 2018 – can be used in the tourist trade elsewhere.
“The primate’s teeth may be removed to stop them from biting,” the IUCN explains. They may be extremely stressed by their conditions as tourists handle them, or even be sold to those who may think they’re “saving” them.
“Once these animals become too large or strong to be handled safely, they are disposed of or warehoused,” the IUCN adds. “These animals are often kept in poor conditions which the public may be unaware of or ignore.”
The new guidelines meant to protect primates encourage a seven-meter space between any human and the animal when the images are posted publicly. And that’s not just for tourists.
“Those with greatest access to primates such as professional and student primatologists, conservationists, animal care staff and volunteers in zoos, rescue centers and sanctuaries, government agency employees, and tour guides have a key role to play in delivering suitable messages about primates,” the IUCN group said.
“It is equally important that donors, high profile conservation presenters, film and television celebrities, government officials and media producers also model appropriate behavior with respect to primates.”
Other recommendations include:
• keeping people in the photo outside any captive primate enclosures, rather than inside with them
• avoiding or replacing photographs of primates in a caregiver’s arms, even at a sanctuary or zoo
• including binoculars, notepads and other gear in the image, to make any professional context clear
The same focus on educating the public should be used within organizations, the IUCN group said, so that everyone from the marketing director to the tour guide knows why image selection can harm some of earth’s most beloved and endangered species – and what to choose instead.