The not-so ‘Cute’ truth about wildlife viral videos
A wild animal kept under human care loses its ability to survive on its own in the forestRepresentational image

The not-so ‘Cute’ truth about wildlife viral videos

The ‘cute videos’ of exotic wildlife and forced selfies which trend on social media channels create trauma in animals and may be fueling the illegal pet trade, pushing them nearer to extinction

Recently I came across a video of a bear cub that was transferred to the Itanagar Zoo after being kept as a pet for nine months. There were several mixed reactions on social media as the bear will have to live the rest of its life in the zoo's closed environment.

Many people might wonder why the wild animal can’t be placed back in the forest, but this is not possible for various reasons. A wild animal kept under human care loses its ability to survive on its own in the forest. Finding food and making a safe home for itself in the jungle are skills that are learned by a wild animal generally from its parents. Thus if we leave an animal that has stayed captive in human lodgings back in the woods, it would be like a lost child in the jungle.

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Wild animals are wary about the presence of human beings. Another issue these human habituated animals might face is that if they are left in the wild without proper protective measures (e.g., the help of forest protection authorities), there is a chance of them becoming a victim of human-animal conflict. These wild beings who have got used to dealing with people might create unfortunate negative man-animal interactions, when in connect with human beings near the wildlife area,. Thus it is difficult to rehabilitate these captive animals and they end up in the closed enclosures of the zoos.

It is important to remember that in most cases the young wild animals that are in the ‘pet’ markets are victims of wildlife poaching. The parents of these young ones are highly protective and they are either killed or seriously injured before the kidnapping of the young ones happens. Such practices should never be encouraged as they drive a species towards extinction.

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Wild animals are the custodians of healthy sustenance of the natural environment. Taking out one species of this delicately balanced natural arrangement will result in the collapse of the entire system. That’s why keeping wild animals as pets in India is a punishable offence under the Wildlife Protection Act of India. In some cases, ignorance of this Wildlife Protection Act leads people to unknowingly buying ‘exotic’ animals.

The Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 provides protection to both plants and animal species in India under various categories which are known as 'Schedules'. Punishments can vary; from hefty fines to imprisonment depending on the species that is getting affected due to the person’s involvement. General awareness about the law is important when people are involved in locations where there are human-animal interactions to stay out of trouble. There are cases of conflicts between the law and the cultural practices in a region. Solving it amicably, keeping the sentiments of the local population and safety of wild animals is a task now diligently pursued by forest officials and local NGOs who are related to conservation working over there.

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It is better to convince the pet owner about the seriousness of the crime being committed and talk to the responsible authority related to this in that area to figure a way to solve the issue. Also, it is time to see what is inadvertently promoting demand for such ‘pets’.

A viral behaviour which has created trauma for wild creatures are the so-called ‘cute videos’ of exotic wildlife and forced selfies with them which trend on Instagram and other social media channels. A few months ago a video of a Chimpanzee looking at the phone screen and scrolling went viral on Instagram. Dr. Jane Goodall, the world-famous conservationist, and primatologist condemned and requested the public not to share this video as it was an inappropriate portrayal of a juvenile Chimpanzee.

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In an investigation report that came on National Geographic titled ‘Suffering Unseen: The Dark Truth Behind Wildlife Tourism’ by Natasha Daly and also in an article about Otter Cafes on Mongabay.com shed light on how social media influences illegal wildlife trafficking all around the world. So romanticising such human-animal interactions through social media doesn’t go well with wildlife conservation, especially if people are not made aware of the harms it might create.

Social media can make or break the conservation efforts of a region depending on how people handle it. It is a double-edged sword and should be dealt with caution. One like or a supporting comment to a ‘cute wild pet’ image or a story can create havoc in the habitat or existence of that species. The demand fuels the supply. The power of choice always lies with you, the user. With this power comes the responsibility to use it properly.

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(The author is a wildlife enthusiast who after quitting his 15-year-old job as a producer in a leading English news channel to pursue his passion for nature and wildlife conservation. He's an avid wildlife photographer, writes poetry and prose, and uses his website nishandphotoark.com and social media channels to encourage people to observe and conserve nature.)

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