CARANGSARI, Indonesia and HONG KONG—October 26, 2017—Investigations have revealed that a tourist attraction on the Indonesian island of Bali is encouraging visitors to take selfies with a bear cub and her mother in a shocking case of animal exploitation.
As of October 2017 the TripAdvisor listing for the True Bali Experience Elephant Camp was around 75 percent positive, implying that most tourists have no idea they are funding animal cruelty.
Animals Asia is today launching a campaign calling on the True Bali Experience Elephant Camp to stop sun bear Ajib and her cub Marsha from being forced to participate in tourist selfies and to implement welfare improvements that would restore their dignity and well-being.
Footage taken at the camp in June by Animals Asia’s Indonesian partner Scorpion Foundation shows tiny Marsha, who is thought to have been born just seven months ago, trying to escape the grip of staff who want to clean her so she is “picture-perfect” for the hordes of camera-toting tourists to come.
In stark contrast, her 12-year-old mother Ajib seems virtually lifeless in the arms of a Western tourist posing for a picture with her. Much of the footage also shows Ajib sucking her paw, a type of repetitive or stereotypic behaviour likely to be the result of not being able to suckle her own mother when she was a cub.
A third bear, a male, is also held at the sprawling facility, which offers elephant rides and white-water rafting, although he is kept separate from both the tourists and Marsha and Ajib.
Animals Asia’s Animal Welfare Director Dave Neale said:
“What is being done to Ajib and her cub Marsha is utterly tragic. Ironically, Ajib was actually rescued from poachers, but her rescuers are abusing their position by using her and her family to make money.”
Animals Asia initially offered animal management advice to the True Bali Experience Elephant Camp in June this year aimed at improving the welfare and living conditions for the three bears. However, when Animals Asia insisted that interactions with tourists cease, the facility broke off communications.
Wildlife selfies may seem cute but they cause considerable distress and suffering to animals which are often captured from the wild, taken from their mothers or locked up in tiny cages — all so they can serve the global craze for sharing images on social media.
What’s often forgotten is that wild animals – like sun bears, elephants and tigers – are not tame by nature and can pose a dangerous threat to humans if they come too close.
Since 2014, there has been a nearly 300 percent increase in the number of wildlife selfies posted on Instagram. More than four in 10 of these selfies were ‘bad’ wildlife selfies, showing someone hugging, holding or inappropriately interacting with a wild animal, according to the results of a study widely reported this month.
In the worst cases, a selfie has cost wild animals their lives.
Dave Neale said: “The tourists are being fooled. When they visit, they see two placid animals in a large grassy enclosure and everything seems very nice. They don’t see the tiny concrete cell where Marsha and Ajib spend most of their time when not working locked away, they don’t see Marsha’s lost childhood or the tell-tale signs of stress such as chronic paw sucking.
“The tourists are told that everything is ok, but this is far from the truth. What will happen when Marsha and Ajib can no longer be safely handled? What has been done to make adult Ajib so docile? Are they receiving veterinary care? Are they getting enough exercise and mental stimulation? Is their diet suitable? Are they able to express natural behaviours?
“The answer to most of these questions is absolutely not because the facility does not view the bears’ welfare as their primary concern. This facility is being run for profit and the bears are being exploited.”
Dos and don’ts
Don’t ever pay to have your picture taken with a wild animal as this fuels poaching and the trade in endangered and threatened species.
Don’t attempt to hold, hug or in the case of elephants, ride a wild animal for a photo.
Don’t feed or lure animals with food so that they come closer for a picture.
Do report any concerns you might have about the treatment of wild animals in tourist attractions to management.
Do leave a review on Facebook or TripAdvisor describing any cruel treatment of wild animals in tourist attractions.