Media influences perception of wild animals (05/2019)

A new study by Stiching SPOTS and Saxion University of Applied Sciences focuses on the detrimental effect of (social) media on wildlife perception.

Most people do not have the opportunity to watch non-domesticated animals in their natural environment and rely on (social) media to learn about these animals. The way in which (social) media portrays wild cat species affects our perception of and behaviour to these animals. This places an important responsibility on (social) media producers to correctly represent animals and their relationship to humans. Today, (social) media increasingly portrays wild cats in interactions with humans. This can increase people’s desire to engage in interactions with non-domesticated animals themselves, reduce objections against the exploitation of non-domesticated animals for such interactions and distort people’s perception of the danger wild animals represent.

Continuous exposure to images of human-wildlife interactions may result in people coming to perceive wild animals as entities available for human entertainment as opposed to interesting and priceless creatures in their own right. This is likely to lower the threshold to engage in interactions with wild cat species in future and reduce moral concerns about the exploitation of wild animals for such a purpose. Although further research is necessary to determine what the long-term behavioural consequences of exposure to images of wild animals in interactions with humans are, studies have shown frequent exposure to media images can result in undesirable long-term behavioural change. It is therefore important for (social) media producers and others who use images of wild cats to think carefully about the way in which they portray an animal and to be aware of the attitude, perceptions and behaviour this portrayal may promote. Failure to do so could unintentionally encourage unethical, irresponsible and even dangerous behaviour with often dire consequences for both animals and humans involved.

Although the desire to interact with wild cats can be stronger than the moral obligation not to, awareness campaigns do seem to discourage people from interacting with wild animals through detrimental tourist attractions.

The full study is available here:

Main image courtesy of Stichting SPOTS