How Photos of Nonhuman Primates can Affect Conservation

The IUCN Primate Specialist Group Section for Human-Primate Interactions recently published the “Best Practice Guidelines for Responsible Images of Non-Human Primates.” This guide describes how responsible and irresponsible imagery of nonhuman primates in both wild and captive settings can influence public perception of these often endangered animals.

The authors point out 3 important issues with images of humans close to primates:

1. Images of people with primates distort public understandings of primates

2. Images of people very close to primates may be subject to different interpretations across cultures

3. Images of messengers (veterinarians, zookeepers, celebrities, etc.) with primates may make the general public want to obtain their own images very close to primates

IUCN Section for Human-Primate Interaction

How can photos affect the future of primates?

A simple photo of a person standing in close proximity to a primate can convey to viewers that this experience does not hold risk for both the human and primate involved. In reality, touching primates can pose a physical danger to the person involved and it can expose both the human and primate to the risk of disease transmission. Additionally, this photo could convey that primates might make good pets for humans. This all has the potential to fuel practices such as illegal poaching and capture of nonhuman primates from the wild for the pet trade.

The public often doesn’t see the grim conditions that primates used for tourist photo-ops have to experience. Typically, adults are killed in order to secure young babies. Sometimes teeth are removed to prevent biting and they are kept in unkept settings with inadequate diets and hygiene. None of these practices promote the conservation of species, in fact they do the opposite.

Even those working in ethical settings have a responsibility to not release problematic images. Individuals such as zookeepers, wildlife vets, celebrities, and even zoo volunteers might have more access to captive primates than the general public but they might translate ideals in opposition to conservation by sharing a photo of them holding a primate.

Best Practice Guidelines for Responsible Images of Primates (IUCN)

  • Ensure you and/or your organisation have a code of conduct regarding the dissemination of imagery by staff, students and volunteers. Where relevant, ensure your marketing and public relations departments or any communications volunteers are fully informed of the code.
  • Those who do not have control over ALL images of themselves, such as high-profile individuals whose images have been in the public domain for some time, should offer a different image and explain why the original image is problematic. They also have the opportunity to make a public statement to explain their current position.
  • Promote education by explaining the issues related to images of people close to primates for primate conservation and welfare on your or your organisation’s website, publications, programmes, presentations and guided tours.
  • Where relevant, model appropriate behaviour by photographing people outside captive primate enclosures (unless the primates are captive but free ranging), rather than inside.
  • Do not publish photographs of primates in a carer’s arms. Replace these with photographs of the primate alone or with conspecifics.
  • Do not publish photographs of primates being hand-fed by, playing with or interacting directly with carers, volunteers or donors unless the humans wear appropriate protective personal equipment.
  • Ensure a minimum distance of 7 m/23 feet between the person and the primate in images of humans with wild primates that are posted publicly.
  • In images promoting primatology as a profession, ensure that the context is obvious by including your facemask, binoculars, notepad, or similar equipment in the image and explain the context.

Source: Best Practice Guidelines for Responsible Images of Non-Human Primates

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