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If You Want a Photo With a Wild Animal, Take a Selfie on Safari...

26/06/2014 14:40 BST | Updated 25/08/2014 10:59 BST

Now summer is in full swing, social media sites are becoming quickly clogged up with holiday snaps of glorious beaches and scenery to lament over.

But there's another photo appearing across British profile pages that we should all be concerned about.

This year especially, I have noticed an increase in the number of people uploading photos of themselves posing next to lion and tiger cubs, hugging a baby gibbon, or riding a majestic elephant.

Except the truth behind this increasingly popular tourist activity is disturbing.

While many tourists pride themselves on checking the 'ethics' of a wildlife centre abroad, even more are easily persuaded that all is fine - when in fact, we have to just take their word for it.

Take this example. In South Africa, there are fewer than 4000 lions left in the world but more than 8000 in captivity - held in what's known as 'canned hunting'.

Canned hunting, acording to the Campaign Against Canned Hunting (CACH) is 'where the target animal is unfairly prevented from escaping the hunter, either by physical constraints (fencing) or by mental constraints (tame, habituated to humans)'.

This is a cruel and toxic industry which basically allows the hunter a guaranteed trophy.

But the lions are kept in enclosures and mentally constrained - unnerved by the presence of strangers close by.

Many South Africans believe canned hunting has been banned but, unfortunately, only certain elements of the hunt have been.

However, tourists can also get caught up in a trade they often have no idea even exists. Cuddling and walking with lion cubs in South Africa is big business. But the cubs used have usually been taken from their mothers at too young an age - when they are just a few days to about three weeks old. Tourists are told they can walk with them, feed them, play and even cuddle them for a fee in so called 'conservation projects'.

Those who dare to ask questions are told the cubs were orphaned and will be rehabilitated when they are older.

But the sad truth is, that these cubs have been rented or will often be sent on to establishments where canned hunting takes place - they have become tame enough and docile enough to be around humans, and they will never have known the glories of the wild.

Recently, I saw a photo of a friend with a tiger cub - lying sleepily by her knees as she crouched down, beaming for a photo for Facebook.

While the place she visited may be ethically sound, cubs that are exceptionally sleepy and appear almost lifeless in tourist photos should be a cause for concern. This 'peaceful sleep' is actually a drugged cub - injected with chemicals to become docile and safe for tourists eager to give the cuddly youngster a cuddle.

This abuse and mistreatment of animals for the pleasures of tourism is horrific and it needs to stop.

Tourists often believe they are visiting an animal sanctuary or conservation project. But one must wonder,why cubs would be allowed to be cuddled by a different stranger everyday - when most sanctuaries and conservation centres want to bring up cubs in the hope of one day releasing them back into the wild.

What is even more tragic, is that if most tourists knew the truth behind the trade they would never even consider paying for such a wild 'experience'.

The bottom line is - if you want a photo with a wild animal, take a selfie of yourself on safari and leave the cubs where they belong - in the wild.

For more information visit: http://bigcatrescue.org/abuse-issues/issues/pet-cubs/ or Care for the Wild International's Right Tourism campaign page: http://right-tourism.com/