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‘WILD’ ANIMAL LIFE NEVER MATTERS: When stealing a loaf of bread is more serious than killing a deer

The study participants felt that the least serious property offense (shoplifting a pair of socks) was still more serious than any single wildlife offense (killing).

SIOBHAN BALLAN: Wildlife crime threatens the existence of species such as elephants, rhinos and sea turtles around the world. The global trade in animal parts obtained during illegal hunting or fishing is thought to be worth around $59 billion per year. Regulation in this area is intended to reduce the risk of species extinction while balancing the commercial (and sometimes recreational) practices of hunters and other people…

The public have been somewhat inconsistent in their level of concern for the violation of laws meant to protect wildlife. In a well-publicized case in 2015, an American trophy hunter killed a lion named Cecil during an illegal hunt in Zimbabwe. This was widely condemned by celebrities and politicians, though the killer avoided prosecution. Meanwhile, the illegal killing of many animal species continues worldwide, mostly receiving an indifferent response from the public…

A 2019 study explored the attitudes of college students towards wildlife crime. It aimed to understand how the students perceived various offenses in terms of seriousness, wrongness, and harmfulness. It also aimed to compare these findings with the perception of offenses against persons or property. A survey was carried out using a random generator to select participants…

The survey design followed a model used in previous studies which focused on criminology research and the perception of other types of offenses. Participants were asked to rank, on a scale of 1 to 10, a list of crimes categorized as property, person, and wildlife offenses…

The study found that people viewed wildlife crime to be significantly less serious than either property or person offenses. For example, on average, participants felt that the least serious property offense (shoplifting a pair of socks) was still more serious (4.23) than any single wildlife offense, such as shooting a turkey outside of turkey hunting season (4.02) or fishing without the required license (3.67)…

There was little difference in perceived harmfulness of offenses against property and wildlife. This led the researchers to question how well the public understands the reasoning behind wildlife regulation, which is there to protect human and environmental interests as well as, to some extent, the welfare of the animals themselves…

The study reveals the importance of understanding the basis of laws and policies related to wildlife protection. If we can understand why people generally feel that, for example, stealing from a shop is more serious than killing a deer, we can better target advocacy campaigns towards addressing those reasons. Advocates might also reflect on any lingering bias which could be slowing down progress towards a future in which no animal is treated as property, or an object of entertainment or sport. SOURCE…

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