Demonization Of Wildlife: A Case Study With Sea Gulls In Britain
How people view wildlife is crucial to how much they feel that wildlife should be protected. For example, farmers may dislike wolves who sometimes eat animals they are farming, even to the point where they will be willing to shoot them illegally and face penalties. In other cases, the dislike or downright hatred of certain species may have a real impact on conservation programs. Sometimes these perceptions are based on real experiences; sometimes, however, the media can play a major role in shaping people’s perceptions of the world around them, and can leverage sensational ideas of “wildlife-as-pests” to “make” news.
In this article, researchers explore a series of articles in the British press in 2015 that created and framed the existence of “an alleged ‘seagull problem’ by relying on existing cultural imaginaries.” Though there are scientific component to seagull behaviour, population dynamics, and scavenging behaviour that link into their perception as “pests,” these articles did not touch on science, and only later into the news cycle started to incorporate “seagull experts” and science journalists to expand on the story. The authors note that all species of gull are protected under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act, and that the sights and sounds of gulls are common in the British countryside, the perception of them is generally negative.
In 2015 in particular, the press played a major role in framing their behavior – including scavenging, attachs on people and animals, noise, health scares, and more – as particularly “antisocial,” and dubbed it derisively as “the year of the gull.” Through and analysis of nearly 200 articles from the British press, the researchers found that the seagull panic was deeply rooted in one particular incident where a family dog was allegedly attacked in a back garden. The waves of articles that followed tended to frame gulls as monsters, and people taking wildlife control measures such as poisoning as “declaring war on gulls.”
For animal advocates, the study shows that the dynamics between the animals we love and the ones we hate is complicated and delicate indeed. It’s worth checking out in full for a deeper look at how such dynamics play out, and how urban wildlife, companion animals, and humans can find themselves in overblown conflicts.