Animal welfare activists and the Rottnest Island Authority have locked horns over quokka selfies.
Instagram has partnered up with key animal activists to warn users about animal abuse when they click on the #quokkaselfie hashtag.
The Instagram warning tells users who are searching for this hashtag, ‘may be associated with posts that encourage harmful behaviour to animals or the environment.’
World Animal Protection senior campaign manager Ben Pearson says when wild animals are used for selfies this causes harm to them frequently.
“What we do have concerns is if people are handling the quokkas then there is a potential to hurt them and distress them because they are wild animals and are not used to being handled and passed around by tourists.”
Mr Pearson says there have been many incidents in the past where people have been caught kicking and treating the quokkas poorly.
“We are just concerned that if the Western Australian government encourages even more people to come to Rottnest Island to take a selfie with a quokka, then those incidents may increase,” he says.
But the Rottnest Island Authority manager of environmental services Shane Kearney takes a different view.
He argues people who visit Rottnest Island are generally respectful and aren’t there to injure the quokkas.
“And obviously we do get the occasional interactions where maybe someone mistreats the animals or touches them,” Mr Kearney says.
“But we do tend to take the educational route and most people are responsive to that.
“Generally if they are getting a selfie, they are quite responsible in how to take those as well.”
Mr Kearney says he believed the Instagram warning post is aimed more towards other countries where there is minimal wildlife protection.
“It was just something Instagram did that I don’t think had anything to do with Rottnest Island and the quokkas,” he says.
“When you read their site, it’s really about trying to promote people to look after animals and to discourage animal cruelty around the world.”
Mr Pearson says education is certainly the most effective solution to the #quokkaselfie epidemic because you are talking to the people who love animals and are probably unaware of the stress they cause them.
“Tell them look, basically don’t love them too much,” he says.
Pearson says despite the Western Australian government’s good intentions, he would like to see them issue some additional guidance when taking selfies with quokkas.
“When it comes to wild animals, don’t hug them, don’t ride them, don’t pick them up for selfies and don’t interact with them physically,” he says.
There are ‘codes’ on the World Animal Protection website if you intend to take a #quokkaselfie.
Mr Pearson says if someone touched his kids and he didn’t know who they were, he’d probably ask some questions.
“Essentially, we just need to remember that animals are sentient beings, they feel pain, they feel distress, they love their young and they want to protect them,” he said.