The mass media, wildlife film industry, wildlife filmmakers, Hollywood celebrities and wildlife agencies need a good dressing down. The proliferation of “el cheapo,” entertainment-oriented wildlife films causes drastic impacts on wildlife species worldwide. As humans become ever more oriented to human creations, totally urban lifestyles, glitz and glitter, personalities, high-speed everything, oddball “moments,” self-centered blogs, instant wealth at anything’s expense, frivolous religion and politics, and endless/meaningless drivel and marketing, wild animals suffer.
So the Croc Hunter was done in by a stingray and Timothy Treadwell by a brown bear. In both cases they earned their own demise, fooling with nature, doing goofy things with large and formidable animals better left alone.
Steve Irwin’s stupid behaviors with animals teasing them, getting too close, goading them into attacks not only teaches bad value and interactions relative to wildlife, but will be copied by thousands of other airheads for decades to come and has set ever lower standards for the media-an industry which constantly exploits wildlife with quick-and-dirty films, film clips, and wildlife “news” focused on the trivial.
For 29 years I have rallied against such wildlife pornography. I created the International Wildlife Film Festival to set high standards and to promote the production of high-quality wildlife films. Even before IWFF, I recognized that bears (in particular) were vulnerable to excessive and dramatized reporting and human interest. I started early on (the early 1960s) to teach not exploiting bear “charisma” for profit and gain, or to enhance one’s ego. I have always used bears as a medium to teach and communicate about science and nature, but in ways not detrimental to the bears.
Likewise, for decades I have been trying to encourage wildlife agencies, wildlife researchers, managers, law enforcement people, and university-level wildlife departments to deal with extensive wildlife exploitation within the mass media, the wildlife film industry, and wildlife film marketing. Professionals, well aware of the terrible impacts on wildlife by market hunters early in the 1960s, have steadfastly remained in denial about wildlife in the wildlife film marketplace. Even today, almost no wildlife management, research, or law enforcement is practiced on, focused on, or taught about the enormous, deleterious effects of bad wildlife filmmaking, distribution, marketing or screening.
I often note that hunters, fishermen and trappers are constantly controlled, regulated, held to high sportsman standards and pursued for violations. The typical hunter has a wad of papers about 200 pages long in his or her pocket in order to “stay legal,” to guide on bag limits, seasons, hunting times, sex and age, closed or open areas, care of the meat, caliber of the rifle or type of shot used, etc. In the meantime, those same agencies encourage and aid countless filmmakers, camera crews, photographers, editors, writers, and whatever to go out and do whatever they want, when they want and where they want. Staff biologists are not encouraged to monitor, evaluate and speak out on, or control, wildlife productions. The content is basically considered entertainment for in the evening, not a wildlife professional’s responsibility. Treadwell, for example, was allowed to do many things illegal for others to do.
Worse, perhaps, the needed standards, ethical evaluations, impacts on wildlife and actions needed are not included in wildlife textbooks or classrooms. The whole matter is studiously ignored, as not important in the profession of wildlife biology, despite the 29 years that IWFF and the Great Bear Foundation have called for action. “Poachers with a camera” still mostly write their own rules. People like Irwin and Treadwell still do what they damn well please with animals-countless actions that a hunter would be fined and jailed for. Star-struck is for kids, not wildlife professionals. Filmmaking should not be an allowable way to exploit wildlife for money and fame. The National Geographic Society and the Discovery Channel and all of their defenders should hang their heads in shame for promoting stupid TV actions over sound wildlife biology.
So why does this problem go on forever? People steal the charisma of the animals to boost their own ego and status, which translates into money. It is always the money. So far as I care, wildlife will be considerably better off without Treadwell and Irwin. Where are the other voices of the people who should object? Why should the balance always be stacked for the sensational, the glitz?
Charles Jonkel is president of the Missoula-based Great Bear Foundation