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Your Safari Photos May Be Endangering Wildlife

But don’t worry—it’s easy to fix.

Elephants! Rhinoceroses! Lions! It’s no secret that safaris in South Africa and Namibia offer unforgettable opportunities to experience some of the world’s most incredible wildlife in its natural habitats.

But the president of one safari outfitter said recently the trips may also be tipping off poachers to the whereabouts of certain trophy animals.

Sherwin Banda, president of African Travel, Inc., a safari outfitter based in Glendale, California, recently explained that built-in geotagging features on Instagram and many other social media apps capture the exact location of each photograph, embed this information in each picture, and include it among the data that is published when the photos appear online.

In short, he said, every great Instagram picture is an update on an animal’s location in the bush.

“People come on safari and take pictures to remember the moment, but what they don’t realize is that those who intend to hurt the animals are mining the pictures for information,” he explained. “Unawares, these tourists are aiding and abetting people who would do the animals harm.”

Recent poaching numbers in Africa certainly are staggering. In South Africa, the number of rhinos killed each year by poachers soared to 1,175 in 2015 from very few (13) in 2007. Namibia does not appear to report to the public the poaching statistics within its borders, but the Namibian Sun reported 116 elephant deaths due to poaching between January 2012 and May 2014.

(Of course, we all remember last year when Cecil the Lion was killed in Zimbabwe, as well.)

To help fight this trend, Banda and his colleagues at African Travel shared some tips for how to save the animals by turning off geotagging on your next trip:

iPhone
Go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services. There, you can turn off Location Services entirely or you can turn off location services (GPS)  for just the phone’s camera.

Android
Open the camera app, go to Settings, and switch off the GPS tagging option.

Twitter
Geotagging only will be turned on if you have turned it on manually in the Settings menu under Privacy > Location Services. If you are posting from a laptop, click on the gear icon in the right corner, then go to Settings to check privacy settings.

Facebook
Go to the gear or lock icon in the upper-right corner to check privacy settings. Here you can set who can view your information, posts, and updates. Be sure to visit the Timeline and Tagging section to ensure that friends can’t post your location by tagging you at a specific location.

Instagram
All photos automatically are public unless you change your settings. To do this, go to Edit Profile and change your settings so “Photos are Private” is ON. To turn off geotagging when posting, turn off the “Add to Photo Map” option.

Pinterest
Click on your profile picture in the upper-right corner and select Settings to see what the public can view, who can search for you, and what social networks you have associated with your account.

Of course, another option is just to wait to share your photos until you get home. This, Banda noted, might be the best approach of all.

“Technology is a double-edged sword,” said Banda. “It is able to get us instant gratification in terms of information, but it also gives us the power to go to these amazing parts of the world and leave them worse than they were when we found them. We have to be smarter. Especially in a part of the world where the numbers of certain animals are decreasing every year, we must be more mindful.”

Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. In nearly 20 years as a full-time freelancer, he has covered travel for publications including TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sunset, Backpacker, Entrepreneur, and more. He contributes to the Expedia Viewfinder blog and writes a monthly food column for Islands magazine. Villano also serves on the board of the Family Travel Association and blogs about family travel at Wandering Pod. Learn more about him at Whalehead.com

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