When it comes to wildlife narratives, writer Bryan Christy wants more accountability from reporters.
Christy wrote us in response to our Friday issue of the Narrative Digest, which featured coverage of a zoo, a history of animal experimentation, and an essay on a vet in Sierra Leone, among other articles. He added another a item to the list of issues raised by animal narratives, expressing his frustration that when it comes to stories about humans’ illegal interaction with wildlife, a “focus on animals (and their suffering) tends to give the criminals a bye.”
While most of the stories we featured didn’t involve illegal trafficking, it’s an interesting storytelling issue. In a January Huffington Post essay (“Wildlife Smuggling: Why Does Wildlife Crime Reporting Suck?”) Christy argues that “too often wildlife crime stories are little more than eco-tourism pieces with sad endings” and claims that that sloppy reporting for these kinds of narratives has real costs.
He notes a 2007 report from the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which suggests that widespread “gross exaggeration” from the media (along with other groups) doesn’t help the cause of getting more attention to and support for protecting wild animals. (And in fact, the inflated and inexact numbers Christy points to do show up in some major news outlets via Google search.)
But Christy isn’t arguing against a narrative approach to trafficking stories. In “The Kingpin,” from January’s National Geographic, he presents Anson Wong, one of the world’s major smugglers of endangered animals. While there are plenty of gripping details about victimized creatures in Christy’s story, the tale unfolds more as an expose of one man’s willingness to deliver any animal for money and a global system hard pressed to keep him from doing it.
While the lure of safari-style visuals might be hard to editors to resist, shifting coverage to the bigger picture could make for a more accurate story. Christy suggests that treating the issue with the same kind of rigorous reporting applied to other criminal enterprises might be the answer: “More time should be spent on paper and money trails, less on jungle adventures.”