How the media can help solve human conflict with wildlife

An eastern coyote (Canis latrans) in the prairies of Canada. Photo by Jillian Cooper / Getty Images

Wildlife is in the headlines a lot, these days. Much of the content is crowd sourced: with people home more often and the advent of affordable video technology, images of wildlife near homes and stories of close encounters have become a part of the regular news cycle.

The media can play a significant role in how and why human-caused conflict with wildlife can begin, continue and escalate; they can also play a role in reducing it and ensuring all members of communities are kept safe. All it takes is a few simple shifts in perspective:

  • Words matter. Media analysis has showcased, without question, inherent media bias against wildlife considered predators. Drs. Shelley Alexander and Michael S. Quinn illustrate that across 453 print articles regarding coyote events, coyotes were described with “language depicting criminal behaviour.”
  • Expert sourcing matters. In much wildlife-related coverage, the B.C. Conservation Officer Service (BCCOS) is contacted to provide opinion on wildlife behaviour. However, the BCCOS is not a wildlife management agency and law enforcement agents do not receive advanced ethology training. The University of British Columbia is a rich resource of experts, including researchers in the Wildlife Coexistence Lab and an entire webpage devoted to listing animal welfare specialists.
  • All sides of the story matter. Journalists are taught to consider all perspectives, but rarely is the perspective of the non-human animal considered – or given as much space – as a fearful person in stories of conflict. This is not to take away the emotional experience of anyone, but to encourage the documenting of the emotional experience of the wildlife involved. For example: A coyote defending their den or food source is not aggressive; they are worried and frightened for the safety of their offspring in their homes (expert sourcing can address).
  • Location matters. Outside is nature. It doesn’t matter if it’s urban Toronto, Stanley Park, or somewhere outside of Moosejaw, Saskatchewan. The media has a role to play in helping the world understand that fences, property lines and other human constructs are just that: human constructs. Non-human animals cannot be expected to see the world as we do and implying they should or can is harmful.

Members of the media can play a major role in teaching people about the world around us, but they can also do harm to that very same world. An outstanding resource for journalists seeking to do better for their communities and careers is AnimalsandMedia.org, which offers style guidelines for professional communicators.

Journalists have a profound impact on the world around them. We hope that these tools can help that impact be a positive one for wildlife and ecosystems.

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