Authorities are investigating reports a Melbourne nightclub allowed influencers to handle native animals during a cocktail event.
Instagram posts from the event were pulled down after the venue received backlash from followers online.
“Use of animals as promotional tools is… disgusting,” one person wrote. That was one of a handful of negative comments posted online in response to influencers posing draped with crocodiles and exotic snakes at the Two Wrongs nightclub.
While many of the comments were initially positive, the subsequent uproar highlights growing unease from many wildlife advocates about the use of live animals for likes and clicks.
Government investigating reports after Melbourne nightclub event
On Monday morning, one prominent animal protection group called for an investigation. But the handler who supplied the animals described the response as a “beat-up”, telling Yahoo his snakes were as “happy as pigs in sh**” and is refusing to take the images down.
By the afternoon, Victoria's Conservation Regulator, the regulatory arm of the state environment department (DEECA) confirmed it was looking into the matter.
"The Conservation Regulator is investigating reports of a nightclub in South Yarra allowing visitors to handle native reptiles," a spokesperson said. "Anyone with information about this incident or cases of wildlife crime is urged to contact Crime Stoppers Victoria."
Concern for the reptiles' welfare was initiated by Bailey Mason who sent a message to the venue. “Please consider not having wild animals at bars as it’s very unnatural, stressful and cruel," he wrote. Bailey is an animal rights activist who sparked global anger about live dolphins being used in an Avatar 2 promotion.
“Keeping animals in captivity and using them at venues is extremely outdated, especially for younger generations,” he told Yahoo.
Online news site Pedestrian, then took a number of screenshots of the venue’s Instagram stories before they were taken down. The pictures show a bunch of twenty-somethings snuggling and kissing the animals.
A number of other images shared by influencers no longer appear on Instagram. Two Wrongs has removed all but three posts from its grid, and switched off comments.
The situation is just the latest example of influencers distancing themselves from events they have attended involving live animals, as has been demonstrated with the Melbourne Cup. In a separate incident last week, a Miami zoo apologised to the entire nation of New Zealand for allowing tourists to handle live kiwis.
Community Representation of Crocodiles (Croc), an advocacy group supported by Bob Irwin, was the first to call for an investigation by Victorian authorities.
Spokesperson Amanda French slammed the event as “irresponsible” and said nature protection rules needed to be updated to combat wildlife interactions in social media. “This is a situation that has gone too far,” she said.
Reptile handler hits back at criticism
Melbourne identity Raymond Hoser who supplied the nightclub with reptiles told Yahoo everyone had a fantastic time. “The snakes look happy, the people look happy, what the f*** is wrong with that?,” he said.
Mr Hoser said many of his snakes are decades old, indicating they are well looked after and comfortable interacting with humans.
The veteran wildlife handler argues criticism about the event stems from a misunderstanding about reptiles. He said promotions with live animals help people realise there’s nothing to be frightened about when it comes to snakes.
“Everyone is scared sh**less of them, people kill them when they turn up in their backyard,” he said. “In our situation, we are de-demonising them. People realise they’re like dogs and cats, they’re nice animals.”
The nightclub Two Wrongs has been contacted for comment.
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