The Beast Within: An Exploration of Australian Constructions of Wildlife
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The work presented here is a primarily qualitative examination of the meanings, values and perceptions ascribed to Australian wildlife and the influence and impact this has on its management. I argue that there is good reason to believe Australian wildlife management is fundamentally different from models based on game management as practiced in Europe and North America. Instead, Australian management models are grounded almost exclusively in the management of those species defined as pests. The approach taken here was to use a grounded theory methodology during the data collection and analysis and a social constructionist analysis for higher order abstractions. The approach was adopted because of an identified need to re-evaluate some of the precepts of Australian wildlife management. Although Australian fauna is generally intrinsically valued, such value appears not to have arrested its critical decline. With some exceptions, Australia's wildlife has not typically been valued as a resource although many of the 'pest' species killed in this country are utilised as food elsewhere. A partial explanation of what makes a species edible or worth conserving or needing to be culled appears to lie within the constructions different social groups hold for wildlife. I reasoned that if evidence was found that different groups of people constructed wildlife differently then this diversity of perception would clearly emerge during wildlife conflicts. There were three principle sources of data used in this thesis. The first was participant observations of a number of wildlife conflicts, the second was the textual analysis of newspaper texts that pertained to wildlife and the third were interviews with different stakeholders involved in a wildlife conflict. The data suggested different groups will construct wildlife differently, with the 'good' wildlife needing to be conserved while the 'bad' had to be 'managed.' However, there was no apparent consensus on which species were good and which were bad. Conflicts over wildlife often occur where a species is valued by one group and deplored by another. These conflicts can be simple, involving a single complainant and an individual of a species, or they can be community-wide, involving nuisance behaviours of sub-populations of a species, or they can be complex and reflect a range of deeper social tensions. In the studies presented here, these tensions included 'values clashes' between urban and rural groups, between groups who sought to nurture and protect wildlife and those who sought to manage risks associated with human-wildlife interactions. I argue that the way wildlife is constructed by the different groups, in addition to the values those groups ascribe to wildlife, often lies at the heart of a wildlife conflict - and that those constructions often reflect deeper differences than those relating to the treatment of wildlife itself. Observations of 11 conflicts informed development of a wildlife conflict typology describing the process by which these conflicts escalated into wider, and often intractable, disputes. Analysis of newspaper texts and interview transcripts allowed development of a second model which identified complexity, moral imperatives, ownership and the differing constructions as being key factors influencing the development and resolution of wildlife based conflicts. Both models were successfully tested against a serious wildlife dispute over the management of dingoes on Fraser Island. Based on these findings I conclude that in order to manage wildlife in a way which meets the expectations of Australians, wildlife professionals must recognise that there are a diversity of valid constructions and values ascribed to wildlife. Understanding these differing constructions will become a powerful tool for the resolution of wildlife conflicts that occur when the presence and behaviours of wildlife cause deterioration in relations between different social groups expressing an interest in that wildlife.
Thesis (PhD Doctorate)
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Australian School of Environmental Studies
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