Conservationists and Scientists Increasingly Subjected to Online Abuse
22 January 2021

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Recent news has brought to light the increasing number of online attacks against scientists working in the field of conservation. Although this has been an ongoing issue in recent years, it has been receiving far less attention than it warrants. It is therefore a welcome change to see the issue being highlighted in the mainstream media, in an article on the influence of celebrities on the topic of “trophy hunting.”

These celebrities, as well as politicians, have publically supported the actions of groups advocating for a ban on “trophy hunting” activities.

Many scientists and conservationists have condemned these groups for spreading misinformation on “trophy hunting.” They suggest that by failing to present the whole picture, including the benefits that are generated through sustainable use and international hunting activities, these groups are ultimately harming wildlife and human-wellbeing.

In fact, many of these scientists were signatories of an open letter entitled “Trophy Hunting Bans Imperil Biodiversity,” which was published in 2019 in the Science journal. In addition, a small collection of scientists working in this field published a journal article on the “threats posed to conservation by media misinformation” in the Conservation Biology journal in November, 2020.

Unfortunately, it appears that the promotion of these misinformed views has tended to greatly influence public opinion on “trophy hunting”. As a result, those looking to inform others using fact-based arguments have been subjected to a slew of online abuse, as their views differ from the prevailing narrative on this issue.

Dr. Amy Dickman, senior research fellow at Oxford University and well-known lion conservationist, recounts the abuse she has suffered in relation to this topic. Dr. Dickman has repeatedly stressed that, in the absence of viable alternatives, “trophy hunting” is an effective tool that can be used to support conservation efforts and human well-being.

Due to her views, she has been subjected to much abuse both online and in person; such abuse includes comments suggesting she is a “paid mouthpiece” for hunting, “a monster” and even those calling her “a twisted sadistic bitch”. This mirrors similar abuse that hunters have been subjected to, including these examples in Germany and Slovakia.

Others have even called her reputation as a researcher into question, such as the actor and animal welfare campaigner, Peter Egan, who called her “a very limited scientist.”

The abuse mentioned by Dr. Dickman in this article is typical of the type of responses that other scientists working in this field are met with.

It has even been suggested that some scientists may remain silent on this topic as they “are scared to get involved in this debate as it is so toxic.” This is particularly worrying, as it means that misinformation and even outright lies will remain unchecked.

In order to effectively support wildlife conservation and human livelihoods around the world, it is imperative that we continue to support science and fact-based decision making.

The CIC would encourage others to take a holistic approach when forming opinions on any and all issues – this includes taking both the good and the bad into consideration.

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