TOURISTS visiting the New Forest are ignoring pleas not to take selfies with animals despite being warned of the dangers.
A campaign called Keep Your Distance was launched at the beginning of summer appealing to people to steer clear of ponies, donkeys and cows.
Commoners and local organisations put up posters, issued social media warnings, printed flyers and erected signs in an effort to highlight the risks people were taking by getting too close.
But visitors still seem oblivious to the dangers after an A&T reporter witnessed two families with young children taking selfies with around 10 donkeys huddled in a group in Brockenhurst high street last week.
Three of the donkeys, fed up of being petted, kicked out with their hooves, sending some of the adults running.
However, two women and a young boy remained with the animals.
When asked if they were aware of the campaign, one of the women replied: “We’ve been coming here 40 years, we know what we’re doing. We own ponies so we know how to deal with them.”
Commoners have complained of the constant interference with their animals, saying that in some cases it has altered their behaviour.
There have been reports of animals that have previously been fed becoming aggressive when food is not forthcoming. They seek it out by congregating outside shops and near car parks and picnic spots.
A spokesperson for the national park authority told the A&T: “We are really trying to get the message out as best we can.
Feeding and petting animals in the Forest changes their behaviour – if they can wait around somewhere and get fed, they don’t go off foraging in the wild as they should be doing.
“These animals are unpredictable – it is not safe to approach them and certainly not safe to take selfies with them. But getting people to understand the dangers is proving difficult.
There is a ‘Keep Your Distance’ board erected at Hatchet Pond, but people still stand next to it having photos taken with ponies.
“We will keep going with the messaging.”
Head agister Jonathan Gerrelli said: “Most New Forest ponies and donkeys are even-tempered animals and often come close to visitors, but they are not used to being handled and should be left alone. They can react very suddenly if they feel threatened.
“The animals may look friendly but can bite or kick, especially when they have young with them. Take particular care around ponies with foals and cattle, especially if you have a dog with you.’
Katie Walding, from the New Forest Commoners’ Defence Association, said: “These grazing animals are vital to everything we all love about the Forest. We believe that people wouldn’t get too close or disturb them if they understand this, and the risks to themselves and to the animals.
“The Forest provides all the food the animals need, and feeding them just draws them to people, car parks and roads, putting them at great risk. It also changes their grazing habits that keep them healthy all year round.”
Free information sessions will be held by Forestry England rangers and commoners over the summer to educate the public about the animals in the Forest.
These will take place in August every Thursday between 1pm and 2pm.
The first will be at Bolton’s Bench in Lyndhurst on 8th August, followed by 15th August at Whitefield Moor, Rhinefield, Brockenhurst; 22nd August at Beaulieu Road Sales Yard; and 29th August at Hatchet Pond, Beaulieu.