In an attempt to crack down on the promotion of animal tourism and the negative side effects attached to it, the Costa Rica Tourist Board has launched a new "Stop Animal Selfies" campaign.
A study conducted by World Animal Protection in 2017 ranked Costa Rica as the seventh country worldwide for improper photographs and selfies with wildlife. According to the tourist board, the environmental and tourism sector is committed to the country’s natural environment and to preserving the earth's biodiversity and protecting wildlife, and is therefore, unifying to stop this practice.
Costa Rica aims to set an example for the rest of the world by encouraging people to avoid direct contact with wild animals that are being manipulated for photographs, whether in captivity or in their natural habitat.
Costa Rica’s laws declare wild animals to be the heritage of all Costa Ricans, as part of their natural wonders, whose beauty attracts thousands of tourists every year. They're even on the local currency!
In fact, more than 64 per cent of the people who visit Costa Rica do so in order to engage in activities that are directly related to ecotourism.
Its abundance of biodiverse habitats and wildlife are a key selling point, and many tourists to Costa Rica come to the country in the hopes of snapping a picture with a sleepy sloth, or one of the friendly-faced capuchin monkeys which are a staple feature in popular Manuel Antonio National Park.
So, how will the new campaign effect eco-tourism to Costa Rica, and how can tourists be more responsible when they visit?
PAX caught up with Debbie Fishwick, public relations account executive, VoX International, which represents the Costa Rica Tourist Board here in Canada, to learn more about the new campaign, so that your clients can be more aware on their next visit to Costa Rica.
PAX: What’s going to happen to all of the tour operators who currently offer the opportunity for guests to hold sloths or monkeys and have a photo taken? Will they be shut down? Will the tourism board stop promoting them?
Debbie Fishwick (DF): The Stop Animal Selfies campaign is an initiative developed by the Costa Rica Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE), which the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) and other local organizations and companies are supporting. It is an educational campaign that seeks to change the habits and behaviours of individuals and society in general. The maltreatment of wildlife is currently illegal in Costa Rica.
It is the role of the MINAE to receive and investigate complaints about tourism businesses that allow such irregular activities. The ICT too will monitor the results of these efforts and is prepared to analyze results in a timely manner in order to define the next steps.
Costa Rica is a country committed to sustainability and environmental protection, and this campaign aims to contribute to the protection of Costa Rica’s wildlife while ensuring the safety of the tourists who visit.
The goal is to raise awareness that wildlife observation must be done in a respectful manner, admiring the beauty that nature shares with us.
Tourism companies must adapt their business vision to a new level of environmental protection that is consistent with the sustainability policies promoted by the country.
PAX: What does “responsible photography” actually look like? Do you have any suggestions for travellers who would still like to photograph wildlife in a more respectful way?
DF: In Costa Rica, we invite tourists to take photographs of our wildlife, for which we give a series of recommendations to avoid cruelty to animals, and support environmental conservation efforts in the country:
1. Reject activities that allow you to take a selfie hugging or holding a wild animal, this promotes its exploitation, suffering and improper handling.
2. Observe wildlife in a calm, respectful way and at a safe distance. Animals must be free in nature and people must never chase them.
3. Respect the freedom of wildlife, never catch, manipulate or remove them from their habitat. This is dangerous for you, compromises the life of animals and is a crime.
4. Respect the natural behavior of animals and protect the health of wildlife by never feeding them, or attracting them with food or sounds.
5. If for any reason the wild animals are in captivity, do not enter their enclosures, do not touch, hug, feed or handle them - this protects you from diseases or accidents such as attacks, bites or scratches.
6. Help them return to nature. Paying for experiences in rescue centers with animals in recovery, eliminates their chances of returning to nature and promotes illegal activity.
7. Book wildlife observation experiences with a responsible travel operator.
8. Share these wildlife ethics with family and friends or another tourists who wants to visit Costa Rica.
PAX: Unfortunately, though it's not always ideal, many smaller tour operators rely on the promotion of animal tourism to make a living. How will the tourism board work to educate private tour operators on the importance of putting an end to animal selfies, and what are some alternatives that can be offered that will keep them in business?
DF: Precisely, this campaign is the first effort to educate and make tour operators, and the tourism industry in general, more cognizant of the importance of respecting wildlife.
Actions that are being coordinated by the private sector and led by the MINAE over the next year include, the development of a series of trainings to the tourism sector, to begin the construction of a manual of ethical practices of the tourism sector for wildlife conservation, educational activities in schools near Protected Wild Areas (ASP) and signage labeling in Protected Wild Areas, along with other awareness activities for the tourism sector.
This campaign has the support of both the private and public sectors. In addition, ICT and MINAE, the National Chamber of Tourism and the Costa Rican Association of Tour Operators are part of #StopAnimalSelfies. Additionally, some private operators are already joining this initiative.
The Stop Animal Selfies campaign has also adopted a code of ethics for selfies and offers tourists a place where they can report these irregular activities by tourism businesses via telephone at 1192 or the online platform.
For more information, travellers can visit www.stopanimalselfies.com.
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