The role of media in human-wildlife conflict

A coyote (Canis latrans) looks toward the sun.

The couple was out for a walk one night when they saw a predator nearby; they stopped, hoping it would pass. Instead, the predator charged directly at them, barking maniacally, gnashing teeth glinting in the moonlight. Fortunately, the rest of the family was nearby, and they were able to keep the predator from harming anyone. But the risk is real, and the community needs to know.

It would be a terrifying ordeal for anyone. This is how a pair of coyotes may have experienced what the Tri-City News described as an attack on a dog. Though the dog’s companion acknowledges her dog pulled loose and chased the coyotes, who had not shown any aggressive behaviour, the headline of the article and the first sentence both state that the dog was attacked.

“Cookie pulled on the leash, yanking it out of her hand and ran toward the pair. That’s when three more coyotes appeared and joined the other two in surrounding her pet and lunging in attack,” the Tri-City News reports.

In a letter to the reporter and editor, The Fur-Bearers requested that this terminology be changed as it is inaccurate. That request was denied. For now, the Tri-City News will broadcast to their readership (as well as the readership of other Glacier Media outlets and social media channels) that coyotes in a group attacked a dog. While the article itself accurately describes how the dog attacked the coyotes, the language used perpetuates a falsehood (that the coyotes attacked) and gives the impression that coyotes are prone to “attack” dogs.

As The Fur-Bearers, the B.C. Conservation Officer Service, numerous other non-profits and associations desperately try to educate the public to understand wildlife so as to protect it, and understanding the failure of this is too often a horrible, cruel death to an animal, it is disappointing to read the editor of the Tri-City News is unwilling to update their articles.

In the future, we recommend any journalist covering a story such as this to reach out to a coyote expert who can give an interpretation of events. These experts can be found through organizations like The Fur-Bearers or Coyote Watch Canada; they can be found at most universities or through associations like the BC SPCA. The University of British Columbia has a website that does the heavy lifting for journalists, even:

Further recommended reading includes “Animals And Media: A Style Guide For Giving Voice To The Voiceless”.

Journalists face difficult times with ongoing limitations to newsroom budgets, greater digital expectations and a rapidly changing industry; that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to grow and do better for the people (and wildlife) of our communities.

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Established in 1953, The Fur-Bearers is a charitable, non-partisan organization whose goals are to end the commercial fur trade and promote solutions for wildlife coexistence in communities. Your donation is tax-deductible. Charitable registration number: 130006125RR0002

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