Social media images of humans interacting with primates are damaging for conservationStudies show that the use of primates in commercials – like the chimpanzees in PG tips adverts from the 1950s to 1970s – can distort the perception of an animal’s conservation status, and there are concerns that social media images of humans interacting with nonhuman primates are having the same effect.
If you follow our social media pages, you will have noticed that it has been a long time since we posted any photos showing humans in direct contact with orangutans. While we sometimes receive images from the rescue team where vets or other team members are, out of necessity, holding a baby orangutan which they have confiscated from the pet trade, we know that research shows that sharing the images could do more harm than good.
Images of experts like vets and primatologists interacting with animals in this way can undermine conservation efforts by inadvertently driving demand for the illegal primate pet trade and encouraging the public to take selfies with monkeys, orangutans and lemurs. The IUCN Primate Specialist Group Section for Human-Primate Interactions has developed guidelines for the use of images of primates on social media to help primatologists and scientists with a large following use social media responsibly.
Siân Waters, who heads the group that devised the guidelines, said, “A lot of people are very well intentioned when they post these photographs, but the problem is how they are perceived. The context can get lost very easily on social media.
“It might have a very clear conservation message which says, ‘Don’t keep primates as pets’ with an image of someone holding a confiscated pet macaque or a confiscated pet chimp. But in actual fact, that context is lost almost immediately as that is shared all over the world.”
It is also important that everyone takes care not to perpetuate ideas about primates being cuddly, safe and fun to take photos with. If you are travelling in a primate range country or somewhere with a facility with free-roaming primates, you should always keep at least a 10 metre distance between you and the primates, never try to touch or feed them, and never hold or pose with one for a photograph unless you are at least 10m away and the primate is very much in the background of your selfie.