Study Raises Concerns About Leopard Portrayals in the Media

Leopard by Tim Ellis. CC BY-NC 2.0

How the media talks about animals matters. Most people do not have regular encounters with creatures like leopards (Panthera pardus), and they are not trained in wildlife biology. The media can thus be a powerful tool for disseminating knowledge about endangered animals. Unfortunately, as a new study reveals, this is a double-edged sword.

The article, ‘Man-Eaters’ in the Media: Representation of Human-leopard Interactions in India Across Local, National, and International Mediawas written by Crystal A. Crown and Kalli F. Doubleday.

As the title suggests, this study examined media representations of leopards at three scales: local, national, and international. The authors wanted to see if news outlets, responding to divergent pressures, portrayed human-leopard interactions differently at each scale. Crown and Doubleday (2017) examined 291 articles about human-leopard interactions in India (p. 306), and their results were concerning.

At all scales, the most common portrayals of leopards were those that supported the “leopard as man-eater” narrative. There was also a serious lack of educational articles about leopards. However, there were observed differences between scales.

For example, international media outlets published ‘man-eater’ stories more frequently than the other two. Local news sources more readily used ‘leopard as victim’ frames than the other two, but they released the fewest informational pieces. National news outlets, by contrast, published the highest percentage of educational articles.

Crown and Doubleday’s (2017) findings suggest that readers at all levels are being presented with biased accounts of human-leopard interactions. These effects are compounded by the media’s reluctance to publish informational pieces.

Portraying leopards as man-eaters, without presenting factual information about them, might fuel negative perceptions of the species. This image is a screen shot taken during an episode of Wild Safari LIVE.

As the authors point out, sharing factual information about leopards is an effective way to counter negative perceptions of them (Crown & Doubleday, 2017, p. 310). By frequently painting leopards as man-eaters, while simultaneously failing to present educational materials about them, media outlets might be reinforcing anti-leopard sentiments.

I find Crown and Doubleday’s (2017) emphasis on the importance of factual information to be quite interesting. This is because a recent study found that factual knowledge about jaguars and pumas in the Brazilian Pantanal influenced participants’ fear of the cats: respondents who knew more about jaguars and pumas were less afraid of them. This mattered, because people who were less afraid of the cats were more willing to co-exist with them (Engel, Vaske, Marchini, & Bath, 2017). This study corroborates Crown and Doubleday’s (2017) claims about the importance of disseminating knowledge.

‘Man-Eaters’ in the Media is a fascinating study. It raises important questions about how human-leopard interactions are portrayed by the media, and contains many references to equally-worthy articles.

Click Here to Read ‘Man-Eaters’ in the Media by Crystal A. Crown and Kalli F. Doubleday

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5 thoughts on “Study Raises Concerns About Leopard Portrayals in the Media

  1. It’s unfortunate, but the media can sway and poison minds if used incorrectly. The sad part is they also write history and what our great grandchildren, as I’m sure we perhaps were, will perceive by the bias of these and other writers, especially since young minds put so much store on social media, their new “teachers”. I had various teachers when I was young who were very dogmatic in expressing personal opinion as fact to our malleable minds. So it goes today.
    I put little store by media representations, having seen it in action, which has made me cynical at times.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The media could potentially do a lot of good in the world, including raising support for wildlife conservation. But unfortunately it frequently does the opposite. The most sensational and unusual stories get the vast majority of attention, which gives readers an unrealistic view of wildlife. While you might not put much store in media representations of wildlife, many people believe what they see and hear without questioning it. The mainstream press needs to do a better job of living up to its enormous potential to educate the public about wildlife.

      Liked by 1 person

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