Defending wolves from the real threat – fake news
Location: Warmian-Masurian – Poland,
Story by: Aleksandra Świetlik
In the information noise, nowadays, it could be really difficult to distinguish between truth and manipulation in media. Fake news is the global problem of our time. The situation is worse if the victims of the fake news are those who do not have a chance to defend themselves. Then people who have the courage to stand up against lies and be the voice of those who don’t have one are needed. Such a people are among others Wojtek Andrearczyk and Marek Bebłot from the Local Group for the Protection of the Wolf in the Elbląg Upland, where they fight for the good name of the wolves in Poland.
Wolf is one out of three large carnivores living in Poland. There are about 2 000 of individuals and the wolf is classified as strictly protected species. According to a survey conducted by WWF Poland in 2016: 66 percent of Poles consider wolves to be dangerous animals and 71 percent would be afraid to meet them in the forest. Why? This negative image of the wolf in the consciousness of Poles and a number of revealed cases of shooting this protected species may have been caused by the fake news that were published by local and nation-wide media. The one who wanted to change wolves negative image and to fight the manipulation, were Marek Bebłot who established the Local Group for the Protection of the Wolf in the Elbląg Upland in November 2015.
The Local Group for the Protection of the Wolf in the Elbląg Upland was established when in Polish media (press, television, Internet) appeared numerous, unfortunately highly unreliable articles and reports, devoted to wolf attacks on livestock and the alleged threat these predators may pose to humans.
The main goal that organization has set was to promote an objective view of wolf – a protected species, not dangerous to humans and very useful in the ecosystem. How they managed that?
The organization was joined by committed and active wolf enthusiasts who organized the civic monitoring of wolf. At the same time they were meeting the stakeholders such as journalists and farmers to show that it is possible for people and wolves to coexist in the same area and that potential conflicts are solvable. They also raised awareness among residents about both the biology and habits of wolves and how to protect livestock from attacks by them.
In their social media, the group is making a call-out every time when a particular journalist or media title is presenting biased material about wolf. They are explaining and educating the audience as well as the broadcaster.
Even on such a small local scale, engaging activities could make impact.
– We teach the inhabitants how to live next to the wolf and I see the progress – says Marek Bebłot. – Wolves are beautiful and useful animals. Unfortunately, some livestock breeders still consider them to be harmful pests that kill farm animals. We are trying to change that. Moreover, they sometimes think that wolves can also attack people. Such views are also the result of unreliable press publications about wolf attacks. The phrases “wolves attacked”, “people are afraid”, make people really afraid after reading them
– says Marek.
– To improve wolves not-so-good PR we are organizing groups of trained people who joined in the inspection of farm animals attacked by wolves, providing advice not only in writing applications for damage compensation, but also helping to avoid similar losses in the future. We established close cooperation with farmers, representatives of the State Forests, City Hall officials, the Regional Directorate of Environmental Protection and Elbląg Upland Landscape Park. We are raising funds for systems to protect farm animals against attacks (e.g. fladry, electric fences) and we are monitoring local wolf pack
– says Marek Bebłot.
Local activism is extremely helpful in nation-wide nature conservation mechanism. People who live alongside those who face problems with coexistence on a daily basis have bigger impact on the process of changing their behaviour. The Local Group for the Protection of the Wolf in the Elbląg Upland is a great example of a necessary work done for the particular community, which complements the mission of nature conservation organizations with nation-wide range.
The need of defending wolf from harmful fake news was recognized also by WWF Poland. To enhance the mutual efforts but in an extraordinary way WWF Poland released comic books about wolves. They were designed by the Polish artists DobraPara. One of the stories was about the exact problem that Local Group for the Protection of the Wolf in the Elbląg Upland is fighting – fake news. The comic story called “Wolf liar” is about journalist who is forced by the boss to make a scary story out of an attacked livestock but then he decided not to look for a sensation but for true. This is very engaging and educational story. WWF is sending out this comic book to journalists as well as to other stakeholders, because education through fun is always a good idea.
The monitoring of certain species delivers a collection of relevant data about numbers and behaviours of individuals and populations. The knowledge about the development of a population delivers a reliable base for decisions about their management and allows a planning according to the actual circumstances. There is a range of monitoring methods as well as there are various technical systems to collect and store the data. One method to deal with the different categories of evidence is SCALP /with the categories C1, C2, C3). One scientifically proven tool to monitor large carnivores is the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART).
We still have lots of work to do when it comes to changing attitudes since the discussion surrounding wolves in Poland is quite polarised. Education and informing various groups of stakeholders are the best ways to achieve this goal. However, it is clear that the matter will not be resolved by anything other than constant work. I am hopeful and I already see the positive change as well as in the media as amongst farmers.