A jaguar kitten, with its clumsily oversized paws, rounded teddy bear ears and ever-so-not-ferocious tiny meow, seems made for cuddling. It's hardly surprising then that tourists visiting Mexico are more than willing to shell out 20 bucks for a photo op with these jungle babies.
Better yet, the tourists are told that the money they spend to get their new exotic Facebook profile pic goes towards the care of these orphaned cats. What isn't advertised is that these charismatic felines have often actually been taken from their mothers at a very young age, have most likely had their teeth and claws removed to be less of a threat, and will probably be put down or sold to a circus or low-end zoo when they have outgrown their prime adorableness.
"Millions of animals around the world are used in tourism activities, and tourists often don't realize that by simply having a photograph taken, they are contributing to suffering and abuse," said Philip Mansbridge, CEO of Care for the Wild, one of the organizations spearheading a new awareness campaign.
"Through our RIGHT-tourism.org website, we're aiming to get tourists to check first before they do something involving animals on holiday which they, or the animals, may regret."
The Born Free Foundation, which is partnering with Care for the Wild on this issue, has received many hundreds of reports about wild animal photo props in Mexican holiday resorts from international tourists via their Travellers' Animal Alert initiative.
"The sad fact is that currently this exploitation appears to be legal, as long as the people involved have the official permits to operate," said Sarah Jefferson of the Born Free Foundation. "From the huge public feeling on this issue and the clear welfare concerns, we feel that the Mexican authorities need to take action to amend the law and make this activity illegal."
While these animal welfare groups are currently focused on petitioning the Mexican government to put a halt to this practice, Mexico certainly isn't the sole offender. Thailand, Spain, Bulgaria, Morocco, Russia, Romania, India and Sri Lanka are all destinations where turning wild animals into lucrative photo props is commonplace.
Even if you have no moral qualms about financially supporting animal exploitation, Born Free and Care for the Wild also point out that there is an impressive slew of nasty diseases that can spread from animals to people through close contact, not to mention the likelihood that your imprecisely drugged photo buddy might suddenly remember that it is a wild animal midway through the shoot and feel the need to express its displeasure.
What do you think should happen to companies that use exotic animals as photo props? Let us know in the Comments.
Related stories on TakePart: