There are so many reasons why it is critical to avoid close contact with wildlife. One is infecting wildlife and threatening their health and life [VB09]. Zoonosis and reverse zoonotic transmission is where diseases pass from animals to humans or vice versa. Surely we don’t want that on our conscious or health…
Catching and handling wild animals is illegal in some countries (as it should be). Handling and catching also cause wildlife severe stress. For instance, if a snake has just eaten, its first response to handling will be to regurgitate its food. Amphibians may get infected with fungi and bacteria from your hands, which can be deadly to the individual and sometimes to the entire species in the area or landscape. Keeping amphibians and reptiles out of their natural environment will cause their skins to dry up, and may impact their survival [DS16]. A calf that seems separated from mother and herd, will later be rejected by the herd if it has been touched and will consequently die [DC15], and the list goes on.
Here is the thing: A wild animal has nothing in common with your regular pet or domesticated animal, which in both case have been bred (i.e., genetically modified) to favor traits that suit close interactions with humans.
Projecting expectations onto wildlife is potentially dangerous to them and us, and more than detrimental to their health.
⚠ Danger really? We have witnessed someone’s hand chomped on by an orangutan in a zoo when that person got too close. We were volunteering and some forgot that they are still wild and unpredictable and also very strong. Seeing them as their playful mate ended up getting too close and then in the hospital.
As well it is important to remind that petting any wild animal in the wild or in captivity is a factor of transmission of diseases and parasites, threatening the health of both the animals and the visitors.Don’t anthropomorphize: A slow loris does not like to be tickled and it is now well known that it is a form of torture given that raising their arms is the signal of high stress. Never should you try to pet lions; just because Disney depicts cute animals on TV doesn’t mean we should think of the world’s animals as our pets to get close to, to tease for a reaction, to entertain us. Besides, the petting industry in some countries is now known to be tied to the canned and trophy hunting industry [NK15]. We should also raise attention to the petting of tigers and the scandal of the Tiger Temple in Thailand [GS16], that have been revealed to be tied to the illegal wildlife trade of tiger parts (remember those 40 frozen cubs found in the freezers of the temple). Many people believe that because the Tiger Temple has been closed down that that has ended the practice. In fact, there are many more tiger temples and petting zoos in Thailand and around the world (including the US that has now a long history of roadside zoos hosting various big cats including tigers, lions, etc.). In short, any petting opportunity with cubs is likely to be unethical. So just stay at large and report those organizations so that they can be investigated for animal welfare and conservation value.
Riding or swimming with wild animals? Then you are as culpable of animal cruelty as those abusing the animals for tourism.
Contrary to what many want to think, dolphins generally are not prone to liking swimming with us when forced; big cats and cubs’ stress flare when forced to entertain us – this includes when being petted or when ‘walking’ with us.
In general, be aware of animal welfare issues. Those welfare issues are real. But finally, elephant tourism institutions that allow for elephants riding [RC16], or walking with lions are now creating public outcries and pushing the Tourism industry to publicly turn away from many of these cruel forms of human entertainment. It is so toxic, so prevalent in the industry that finally TripAdvisor decided to ban the sales of tickets of wildlife tourist attractions that allow contact with wild animals [RK16]. As of 2017, Instagram itself joined the efforts to protect wildlife. Using tools built to tackle self-harm and suicide, the social network will now alert users to behavior that harms wildlife.
Cruel really? No need to discuss the cases of “Walking with Lions” opportunities that have been proven to be linked to the most horrendous form of hunting: Canned Hunting [NK15]. But yes, generally the training and welfare conditions of the wildlife subjugated to perform for us, as well as the physical and emotional harm done to this wildlife has vastly been studied and scientifically documented over many decades, although often ignored by the public. Ignoring the facts and literature on the topic is now starting to resemble an act of stubbornness on our part.