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Why Wildlife Conservation Must Embrace Social Media

You wouldn't think it would be any kind of challenge to keep people interested in wildlife conservation. Everybody loves animals, right? To an extent, yes, and nowhere is that more evident than on the internet, but studies have routinely shown that when an issue doesn't directly affect people, they immediately begin to engage less with it. Sad to say that, as many images as you might find of a slow loris which have been shared thousands of times, it hasn't made the tiny primate any less endangered. In fact, in that instance, it's actually made it worse, since they're now being sold illegally in Indonesia.

The thing is though, with the way animal imagery does trend so remarkably easily, there is a massive amount of scope for raised awareness about conservation. Most of the time when such content does take off, it's via a moral imperative. What I mean by that is that often the images and videos that go viral are so shocking that you almost can't help but engage, because they'll end up implanted in your head either way. For example, recently a deeply disturbing expose on Russia's dolphin shows went viral, being shared across Facebook and Twitter thousands of times.

The funny thing with wildlife imagery going viral is that in many cases it's far from deliberate. Trophy hunter Rebecca Francis is one of many people to have been subjected to a massive online backlash after posting pictures of herself next to her most recent kills in Africa. In her case, the spread was aided by Ricky Gervais, who has since cultivated a reputation as an outspoken online animal rights activist. The trouble with that kind of thing is that the shock often stops at the reactionary phase and moves no further, people might share the post, add an exasperated comment about the hell of it all or just gasp, but then they'll move on.

So the question becomes, how do wildlife foundations use social media in a way that moves people from reaction to action? There are some examples out there that could provide the answer. Mary Lee is a small, but good example. As we previously reported, the great white shark is tracked and her location is updated using a Twitter account. It might not get people out in the streets campaigning for shark conservation, but it's got a good chance of planting it in their minds.

Similarly, and far more broadly, live feeds of various nature preserves and other observed habitats have proven very successful in many cases and with live streaming taking off the way it is at the moment, they're probably only going to gain more traction. Eagles, bears (polar and grizzly), sharks, wolves, dolphins, penguins, pandas and all manner of other animals are tracked by 24 hour live feeds and some amazing stories have emanated from them. The 'Bearcam' which operated at Kamati National Park in Alaska managed to catch live images of a bear cub being adopted by a new parent, an extremely rare and fascinating phenomenon that would have passed by unnoticed, had people not been tuned in.

This kind of active engagement is the kind of thing that could well help convince people that they need to do more to support wildlife conservation. Keeping direct track of endangered species and using live streams and social media profiles to publicise that tracking might not be a guarantee of maintained interest, but it would likely increase the chances. 

A recent, but sadly now defunct Indiegogo campaign sought to create a wider social network for endangered species, tracking the movements, health and general activity of thousands of individuals through a Facebook-like platform. It was ambitious, but it exemplifies the exact kind of work that needs to happen more.

Activism is the only thing that will help move the world further towards saving the millions of species that are gradually disappearing, as well as taking more action against deforestation, poaching and pollution. People love animals, and if the amount of engagement animal-related posts get online could be counterbalanced with active campaigning, who knows how much good could be done. 

Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF

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Why Wildlife Conservation Must Embrace Social Media Reviewed by Unknown on Wednesday, July 01, 2015 Rating: 5

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