Snap judgment: Selfish selfie sends starlet to get stitches

Most of the people you meet tend to be fairly intelligent and understand right from wrong, good from bad and smart from stupid. Every once in a while, though, there’s someone who defies convention and does something that makes you scratch your head and speculate whether their parents might be brother and sister.

The latter seems to be a case with a woman in Arizona who went to the Wildlife World Zoo west of Phoenix and tried to get a selfie with a jaguar. Now, if she’d done it by standing where she was supposed to and had the big cat positioned in the background, that would have been just fine. However, she tried to climb over the big concrete barrier that normally keeps folks like us from becoming lunch for the animals, and the jaguar, feeling threatened by a stranger trying to invade her space, did what any animal would do and lashed out, digging her claws into the woman’s arm.

The incident could have been much worse if it hadn’t been for the quick thinking of some people nearby. Viral video taken by Adam Wilkerson showed Wilkerson’s mother distracting the jaguar by pushing a water bottle into the cage.

“Common sense would say that that would probably not be a good idea,” Wilkerson said in a story in the New York Times.

I would certainly agree with that assessment, but it seems that common sense has gone out the window in this age where everybody is begging for attention and feels the need to post online pictures of themselves everywhere they go. If she needed attention so badly, she should go to a therapist or get a dog, not attempt a rare selfie with an animal that doesn’t surf the internet and doesn’t know that the woman means her no harm.

CBS News reported that the unidentified woman called the attack a “crazy accident.” Both words are incorrect, in my view. An accident would be caused by someone not looking where they’re going or tripping on something. The woman intentionally crossed the barrier and got too close to a wild animal, ergo not an accident. The attack was not crazy. It was stupid, and it was preventable.

CBS also reported the woman was unhappy that the video became public. I can’t say I feel any sympathy for her. While I’m sure she would have rather posted a pretty picture with more filters than a Keurig coffee maker, what made it to the public eye was the raw truth that a wild animal can slice into human flesh as easily as a buzzsaw can penetrate a hunk of wood. Reality bites. Correction, reality shreds.

The zoo incident would not have been the first death from an attempted selfie, and it probably won’t be the last. A study done in 2018 found that there were 259 deaths from October 2011 to November 2017 as a result of people wanting to show the world that they’re living on the edge. Four of those deaths were at Kaaterskill Falls in the Catskill Mountains as a result from posing for or taking a picture, and said people slipped off the edge of a cliff.

As a photographer, I can understand the thrill of finding and capturing a photo that no else has. While I love most of the photos I take, there are a few that came as a result of being in just the right place at the right time. With that said, I would not be climbing a concrete barrier to get cozy with a jaguar. I prefer being behind the camera, and a telephoto lens can capture an awesome photo every bit as good as the close-up the woman was trying for.

The good news is that the jaguar will not be put down due to the woman’s senselessness. The zoo managers have the good sense to realize that the animal was not at fault and posted as much on Twitter. “We can promise you nothing will happen to our jaguar. She’s a wild animal and there were proper barriers in place to keep our guests safe — not a wild animal’s fault when barriers are crossed.”

Believe it or not, this story could have ended badly for the cat. Take an incident in 2016 when a 3-year-old boy slipped past an enclosure and came face to face with Harambe, a gorilla that dragged the boy further inside and wound up being shot and killed by zoo officials. It wasn’t Harambe’s fault that a young boy was wandering around without adult supervision, but the gorilla paid the price, and animal lovers everywhere responded in anger.

This might be an age of new and exciting technology, but changing times do not alter one universal truth — wild animals can be dangerous to anyone without a healthy dose of knowledge and respect. A person could have died, and so could the jaguar. Fortunately, neither happened, and this cautionary tale should make self-absorbed people think twice before attempting another selfie with nature’s creatures.

I doubt it, though.

Lee Pulaski is the city editor for the Shawano Leader. Readers can contact him at lpulaski@newmedia-wi.com.