Media sensationalism a danger for BC wildlife

Slow news days happen, and journalists understandably must search a bit harder for stories to fill the airtime or space on the page. But when they begin reporting wildlife sightings as terrifying adventures, it puts the animals at risk.

Three news stories caught our attention in the Burnaby and Vancouver area in recent weeks, each of which could create fear in readers and viewers, and ultimately create an inappropriate reaction to simple wildlife sightings.

Merry Christmas for survivor of vicious coyote attack (Vancouver Sun, December 24, 2016). A dog was involved in a conflict with a coyote in July 2015 that left the small pooch injured. A large photo of the post-surgery dog was included. Exactly what the intent of this story was – a full year and a half after it was news – is unclear. But it is obvious that reading this story could give many people an unhealthy fear of coyotes, animals already persecuted through cruel traps and hunting practices across the country. A more appropriate headline: “Dog is healthy long after receiving medical treatment.”

Border-dwelling beaver wages battle against North Vancouver trees (CBC News, December 27, 2016). A beaver is living on the border of two municipalities, making it unclear who should take responsibility for tree-wrapping – the simple, cost-efficient solution to preventing beavers from felling trees. But the CBC noted that this beaver, which is “normally a symbol of Canadian pride and unity, has caused destruction.” Beavers belong in our ecosystems, and in the United Kingdom, massive efforts are underway to reintroduce them because of their role as a keystone species. A more appropriate headline: “A beaver is living in North Vancouver, unsure of where to pay taxes.”

Man says he was stalked by a bobcat on Burnaby Mountain (Global News, January 4, 2017). A man was out for a walk in a natural area and saw a bobcat. He waved his arms and shouted, and the bobcat left. This is what we would expect (and want) to see a bobcat do. But the headline implies that the bobcat was moments away from attacking – again, creating an unnecessary and unhealthy fear of an animal that did nothing wrong. A more appropriate headline: “Man sees bobcat; bobcat leaves.”

News outlets should be reporting on wildlife encounters – presenting information on our wild neighbours, co-existence strategies, and the environmental significance of these animals is important. But sensationalising for the sake of capturing more clicks is irresponsible – and puts the animals at risk of inappropriate reactions from the public and politicians.

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