Greg Harvey has little pity for humans harmed in the creation of "wildlife selfies."

The Edmonton-based photographer says a growing compulsion to capture coveted photographs with untamed creatures is dangerous for the animals on both sides of the lens.

'Darwin's Law'

"I don't intend to be disrespectful or mean, but if you're taking a selfie and an animal attacks you, that's kind of Darwin's Law in effect," Harvey said in an interview with CBC Edmonton's Radio Active.

"You're not in a zoo, there isn't a chain link fence between you. They're hungry, you're flesh.

"You're just setting them up. And unfortunately, if they get hungry, they're the ones that get punished for it."

Bear photo tourists Banff

Visitors to Banff National Park approach a black bear in this photo that has been circulating on a local social media group. (Facebook)

Whether it's cuddling with a sloth or swimming with dolphins, there are millions of wildlife selfies to be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — and it's a trend that appears to be growing.

A recent report from World Animal Protection (formerly World Society for the Protection of Animals) said Instagram has seen a 292-per-cent increase in wildlife selfies around the world since 2014.

Of these, more than 40 per cent involved humans "hugging or inappropriately interacting with a wild animal."

The group, which investigated operators in Latin America, said that the tourism industry's growing fascination with photographs of exotic animals has an ugly side.

The animals are captured and often battered to make them perform for tourism businesses.

sloth selfie 2

Sloths are of particular concern because some of the characteristics that make them such desirable photo subjects — their slow pace and seemingly accommodating manner — make them particularly vulnerable to human interaction. (World Animal Protection)

The exploitation contributes to species decline and habitat destruction, and animal cruelty is rampant in these often-unregulated industries, the group alleged.  

"Behind the scenes, these animals are often beaten into submission, taken from their mothers as babies and secretly kept in filthy, cramped conditions or repeatedly baited with food that can have a long-term negative impact on their biology and behaviour," the group said.

'Stupid 101'

Harvey, who has led tourists on photography tours in southern France, Alaska and Kenya, said Canada has its own selfie problems.

He once watched two young men flank a black bear nursing her cubs in the ditch, as dozens of tourists looked on from the shoulder of the highway.

Greg Harvey

Greg Harvey, an Edmonton-based photographer, says 'wildlife selfies' are a growing and troubling trend. (Harvey Wildlife Photography)

While it was an unnecessarily dangerous situation for the onlookers, if anything had gone wrong, it likely would have been the bear that suffered.

Predators who become habituated to humans will be destroyed. A cute photograph isn't worth it, he said. 

"Any time you have your back to a predator, it will encourage the predator to attack," said Harvey. 

"Even if its not hungry, just instinctively, that's what they want to do, so you turn your back to a predator, that's just Stupid 101."

"And if she does anything, she gets puts down and then her cubs die."

Harvey said most of the worst offenders are not ill-intentioned but just uninformed tourists who don't think about consequences.

"Some people are coming from cities of 30 million people and they've never been outside a city before, so they don't know. They think it's like a zoo and the animals are tame.

There is a safe way to capture images of wild animals, Harvey said. Always stay in your vehicle, and rely on the expertise of qualified guides to help you safely interact with wildlife.

And if you really want a better quality picture, said Harvey, keep your distance and invest in a longer lens.