Illegal sport hunting revealed on YouTube

YouTube is good for more than just videos of adorable kitten antics. Researchers have turned to this vast online trove to find clips of illegal sport hunting — and to learn more about who is committing these crimes, when, and where.

The study was carried out in Brazil, where killing wild animals is highly restricted. The few allowed cases include hunting for subsistence and to reduce the population of the invasive European wild boar. While sport hunting remains popular, data on these crimes are hard to come by.

The researchers consulted more than 100 articles, reports, and other reference materials to identify eight commonly-hunted types of mammals in Brazil. These animals included tapirs, deer, white-lipped and collared peccaries, capybara, lowland paca, agoutis, and armadillos. Then the team searched YouTube for videos that referenced the name of each animal and the word “hunting” in Portuguese.

After watching 1,600 videos, the researchers found 383 about sport hunting — classified as such because they “featured noticeably nonindigenous hunting practices” — made in Brazil or by Brazilians. Collectively, the clips had been viewed more than 15 million times. Nearly half portrayed successful kills, a quarter showed unsuccessful attempts, and the remainder featured instructions or ads related to hunting. The videos were posted most frequently during the prime vacation months of July and December, and the most common location was a threatened biodiversity hotspot called the Cerrado.

Overall, viewers were more likely to “like” each video than “dislike” it, and positive comments outweighed negative ones. Out of 8,417 comments, only 87 expressed anti-sport hunting sentiments.

The weapons included equipment that typically costs $350 to $2,000, suggesting that their owners are not poor people who rely on killing wild game for survival. Instead, the authors speculate, many of the hunters are likely well-to-do city-dwellers.

The data are skewed, since not all Brazilians have equal access to the Internet. Still, YouTube offers “an effective tool for collecting information on a neglected subject in Brazil,” the team writes, “and can be used to monitor the sport hunting activity throughout the country.”Roberta Kwok | 24 September 2015

Source: El Bizri, H.R. et al. 2015. The thrill of the chase: uncovering illegal sport hunting in Brazil through YouTube posts. Ecology and Society doi: 10.5751/ES-07882-200330.

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