Every time we come across a picture of an adorable baby animal interacting with humans or doing something funny, our first instinct might be to share it as widely as possible. After all, we could all do with a bit of sunshine in our everyday lives, and the sight of an animal behaving in a sweet or goofy way cannot fail to make us smile. Sometimes, sharing pictures of animals who have been rescued from abusive situations – or are in need of new homes – can be an important awareness-raising tool.

However, every time we are tempted to share what appears to be a harmless picture or video of a baby animal, it is extremely important to consider how the animal came to be in their situation. Sadly, a picture that may initially seem funny can, in fact, be portraying hidden animal abuse. For example, in Thailand, baby elephants are sometimes made to venture onto beaches and even into the sea for the benefit of curious onlookers. To the eyes of tourists, it looks as though the elephants are having fun in the sea. However, elephants are not naturally inclined to venture out into salt water, as the salt damages their sensitive skin and they have nowhere to hide from the heat of the sun. They must be pushed into going out into the water by means of violence: for example, a nail is often driven into their side by elephant keepers to enforce compliance.

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Whenever you see a picture or video of a baby animal performing a trick that would not be performed in the wild, there is a high chance that the animal was violently forced to learn this trick. Sharing a picture or video of an unusual house pet such as a slow loris or Artic fox – without critically analyzing how the animal came to be in that home – can also feed into the demand for the exotic pet trade that rips countless baby animals from their mothers each year and is endangering the long-term survival of many wildlife species.

Conservation photographer Paul Hilton recently highlighted this issue on his Instagram page by  displaying an example of the type of photo that may – at first glance – appear to be harmless, but which is in fact sending out a harmful message about wild animals. The picture shows a baby orangutan – member of a critically endangered species whose forest homes are rapidly disappearing to make way for palm oil plantations – hanging from the top of a door while a child looks on, thinking that the orangutan is performing a funny trick.

Sadly, there is a lot more going on in this picture than meets the eye.

This Photo of a Baby Orangutan Teaches us Why we Should Ask Ourselves 3 Important Questions Before Sharing

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Hilton pointed out that wherever we witness animals displaying unusual behaviors that would not be seen in the wild, “these animals have most likely been cruelly tortured for long periods to perform these ‘tricks’ for the camera.” He asked his followers to consider a number of important questions they should ask themselves before sharing any photo or video featuring a cute baby animal. Amon them were:

  1. Is it natural for this baby animal to be doing this?
  2. Who is the organization publishing the picture or video?
  3. Where is the baby’s mom?

“By liking or sharing such posts,” Hilton warned, “you may be unknowingly promoting illegal wildlife trafficking and animal cruelty: the very same things we are trying to stop.” Knowledge is power, so to learn more about this issue, check out the posts below.

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Image Source: Paul Hilton/Instagram