Challenges of Dissemination of Accurate Scientific and
Technical Information in the South Asian Print Media
By: Saikat Kumar Basu*
A lot of unfortunate misinformation is noted in the media; particularly the print media regarding wildlife and forests across the Indian subcontinent (broadly across South Asia). I have scanned several online versions of Indian newspapers and located incorrect information related to wildlife in different states and union territories. I have included few examples for the benefit of the readers. On several occasions human-elephant conflicts in India are reported with images of African elephants; possibly the images of the latter being more easily available. But the truth is that Asiatic (Indian) and African elephants are located in two different continents in distinctly different ecosystems and are two separate genera with distinct genetic, morphological and anatomical differences. Similarly reports on poaching on Indian one-horned rhinoceros have been found to be accompanied with images of two-horned African rhinoceros images; and similarly they are two different genera and geographically separated.
On some occasions I have noticed human-leopard conflict reports across India and Nepal, unbelievably misidentified leopards with cheetahs, two entirely different cat species. Cheetah has been extinct in India since 1951; while leopards are quite common across the entire Indian subcontinent found in most dominant ecosystems. Not only India, cheetah is extinct throughout the continent of Asia except in small protected sanctuaries of Iran and are now referred to as Iranian (Asiatic) cheetahs. Pakistan has claimed unconfirmed reports of cheetah in the deserts of Baluchistan province adjoining Iran. However, there has not been a single recorded (scientific) sighting of any cheetah in Pakistan in the past six decades. Another common mistake that I have noted are that blue bulls (nilgai) and black bucks been regarded as different deer species in several news reports; while they are actually two different species of Indian antelopes.
Similarly several African antelopes are wrongly referred to as deer in print media. Most reports identify blue peafowls (the National Bird of India) always as peacocks. But again this is wrong, the correct terminology should be blue peafowl, the males of which are peacocks and the females are peahens. Another example is that of the misidentification of Indian striped hyena with African spotted hyena. Africa is the home of four different species of hyena, namely-spotted hyena, brown hyena, striped hyena and aardwolf. The Indian striped hyena is a distinctly different species from the African spotted hyena. But possibly due to easy availability of the spotted hyena images that are often accompanied with reports on Indian (Asiatic) striped hyena. Similarly amphibians like toads and frogs; salamanders and newts are mixed up in several reports. It is important for the print media to provide scientifically accurate information to the readers and should be careful enough to review the reports before publication by relevant experts. Possibly there is lack of technical editors or scientific editors in the Indian media houses (both English and vernacular) with relevant backgrounds in Biological/Life sciences that such errors continue to surface quite repeatedly and needs to be changed. The issue is not just restricted to India and is observed across the entire South Asian region.
*UFL, Lethbridge AB
Canada, E-mail -