“Naturally then, the mountains, the creatures, the entire non-human world is struggling to make contact with us. The plants we eat or smoke are trying to ask us what we are up to; the animals are signalling to us in our dreams or in forests; the whole Earth is rumbling & straining to let us remember that we are of it, that this planet, the macrocosm is our flesh, that the grasses are our hair, the trees are our hands, the rivers our blood, that the Earth is our real body and that it is alive.”—David Abram
“Most people's wild beasts live in the TV. What I mean is that, in my experience, most people are highly unlikely to come eyeball-to-eyeball with a large wild animal in their everyday lives, and much of their knowledge of wildlife comes from a screen. If you're North American or get US-produced satellite TV, you've probably learned a lot about wildlife from outlets like the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and History. You might trust these channels because you've seen educational, factually accurate shows on them, unlike the 'trashy' material that dominates free-to-air network TV. But not everything on on these 'factual' channels might be as ethical or even as accurate as you might think, and the implications for conservation could be profound.”—
Read the full article for examples of programs on each network that present wild predators as far more of a threat to humans than they really are. The details are gruesome, so I won’t repeat them here.
It is reasonable, even advisable, to maintain a healthy fear of wildlife and use caution when interacting with them. Don’t corner wild animals; don’t try to cuddle them; don’t pick up snakes (especially ones you can’t identify); don’t approach a mother bear with cubs; always keep a safe distance. But the truth is that most wildlife, including apex predators, would prefer to be left alone, and most will leave humans alone if left to their own devices. When wild animals do bother humans, they tend to do so as a manageable nuisance (like property damage or raiding trash cans) rather than as an existential threat like the television programs in question depict. Even the threat to livestock is far less serious and far more manageable than is often portrayed.
During the 20th century, the United States exterminated much of its wild predator populations. Some were killed off deliberately, with bounties for killing wolves, coyotes, eagles, mountain lions, and other beasts. Others were a side-effect of modern industry, such as DDT and other hazards. In the east the loss of wild predators, combined with the decline of hunting, brought an explosion in the white-tailed deer population, with detrimental results for native plant and bird communities. Similar effects have been felt elsewhere in the country.
Even in our more enlightened times, restoring and protecting wild predators remains a constant fight. Fanning irrational fears and reinforcing old myths about wildlife makes that job much harder. It is even worse, as in the examples given, when the fearsome behavior is deliberately provoked by humans, torturing and killing wild animals for ratings and profit. The cable networks in question (Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, and History) ought to adopt more stringent ethical standards for the treatment of animals in their documentaries and support conservation by presenting accurate programming about wildlife.