|The Wildlife We See, the Suffering We Don’t

At National Geographic, we strive to bring you closer to places you might not otherwise see and to experiences you might not otherwise have, in order to tell stories that matter. Bringing you eye-to-eye with beautiful animals through stunning photography has always been part of our mission. But just as important is speaking for those animals when they are in danger. The booming industry of wildlife tourism – a way for people to appreciate and support animals when done appropriately – can be an exploitative business with terrible consequences when it’s not. Fueled by social media, encounters with exotic animals have turned into photo-driven bucket-list toppers.

This special report goes behind the selfies to examine an industry that caters to people’s love of animals, but often seeks to maximize profits by exploiting animals from birth to death. We hope this complicated, important topic gets the attention it deserves.

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A rotating series of three photos shows a captive sloth, a sick and wounded elephant chained to a wall, and a monkey on a leash.

Many travelers view picturesque experiences with animals as the highlight of their trip, unaware of what the animals’ lives are really like. Animals like those shown here – a sloth, a macaque and an elephant – often suffer abuse in the thriving wildlife tourism industry.

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|Trying to Stop a Deadly Market

It may look like a scaly armadillo – or a tiny T. rex – but the pangolin is more closely related to bears and dogs. The pangolin is nocturnal, solitary, shy, and in danger of extinction, despite a 2017 ban on international trade. If pangolins disappear, there will be nothing like them left on Earth.

Coveted for use in traditional Chinese medicine, pangolins are believed to be the most heavily trafficked nonhuman mammal in the world. According to the wildlife trade monitoring organization Traffic, an estimated one million pangolins were poached from 2000 through 2013. While pangolin is eaten as bushmeat in western and central Africa and by some indigenous groups in South and Southeast Asia, demand for their scales is what’s wiping them out. The scales are believed to help a range of maladies, but there’s no scientific support for these claims. Join now ›

In an alley in Cameroon, a young woman holds a knife and reaches for a pangolin, preparing to butcher it.

In Cameroon a young woman who runs a food stall prepares to butcher a white-bellied pangolin in the alley behind her home. Cameroonians have long eaten the animals, though their trade was recently outlawed.


|Zimbabwe’s All-Female Wildlife Rangers

In Zimbabwe, an all-female wildlife ranger team is fiercely protecting the animals of the Phundundu Wildlife Area, a 115-square-mile former trophy hunting tract in the Zambezi Valley eco-system. The greater region has lost thousands of elephants to poachers over the last two decades. The Akashinga – or “brave ones” in the Shona language – patrol an area that borders 29 communities. Their founder, a former Australian special forces officer, believes women are often better suited to the job – more adept at de-escalating violence, and less susceptible to bribery. Research shows working women in developing countries invest 90 percent of their income in their families, compared with 35 percent for men. In this regard, the rangers demonstrate a key conservation principle: Wildlife is worth more to the community alive than it is dead at the hands of poachers. Join now ›

Two female wildlife rangers stand guard near an elephant in Zimbabwe’s Phundundu Wildlife Area.

Wadzanai Munemo and another ranger encounter an elephant while patrolling conservation land that once was part of a trophy hunting area. At the start of their efforts, the rangers saw animals as little as once a week. Now they spot them daily.


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