Costa Rica is known for being home to some of the world’s cutest animals, such as sloths and ocelots.
But the country’s national tourism body wants visitors to come to their country to look at animals, not to pick them up.
The Costa Rican Tourism Institute is behind a campaign called #stopanimalselfies. It’s a response to the increasing number of tourists who come to Costa Rica in pursuit of Instagram shots of them posing with wild animals.
“Our visitors must know the negative impact caused by selfies and photos showing direct contact with wild animals,” Pamela Castillo, Vice Minister of Costa Rican Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE), told CNN Travel.
“Our goal and responsibility as global leaders in environmental issues is to educate and encourage new world ambassadors committed to wildlife protection,” she added.
Behind the campaign
The Costa Rican Tourism Institute has partnered with Castillo’s agency on the initiative.
In addition to asking tourists to be respectful of wild animals when visiting Costa Rica, the two groups are asking visitors to the Central American nation to pose with stuffed animals instead of real ones and use the hashtag #stopanimalselfies and the caption “I do not mistreat wild animals for a selfie” on their photos.
Beyond possibly scaring the animals, many of whom are not used to humans being present, inter-species interaction can lead to diseases — both animals catching them from people or humans from animals.
As an alternative, visitors who want to interact with animals on their trips should do so through vetted guides and experiences.
Getting up close, but not personal
At the Sloth Sanctuary in the province of Limon on Costa Rica’s Atlantic coast, co-founder Judy Avey-Arroyo educates the travelers who come from around the world to learn about the cute, fuzzy animals.
During their visits, guests can watch, learn about and interact with sloths, but picking up the animals is not permitted except by medical staff.
It’s an ethos that can be found all over Costa Rica.
Some 1.7 million people visit Costa Rica every year. Although the country’s official language is Spanish, the #stopanimalselfies hashtag is in English because the largest number of tourists to the country come from the United States and Canada.
The country has pushed ecotourism in a big way. In 2019, Costa Rica was awarded a United Nations Champions of the Earth honor, which is the organization’s highest environmental commendation.
It’s not just about sloths
The issues of human beings using wild animals for selfies is certainly not a problem isolated to Costa Rica.
Visitors to Maria Island, off of Tasmania in Australia, are asked to sign pledges promising that they will not “chase you with my selfie stick, or get too close to your babies. I will not surround you, or try and pick you up. I will make sure I don’t leave rubbish or food from my morning tea.”
The pledge, which Maria Island park rangers began distributing and posting in January 2019, was the result of too many tourists being unable to resist the allure of hugging and squeezing the cute marsupials.
“We’re in the age of the selfie, and people want to take selfies in different locations and with people and animals,” John Fitzgerald, the CEO of Tasmania Tourism, told CNN Travel at the time.
“We’re asking people to respect the fact that they’re wild animals.”
But maybe what wombats really need is a social media hashtag?