Visual media is a vital tool used within education for its capabilities in increasing knowledge and triggering change in attitudes and behaviours. From images to infographics, short videos, or even long documentary features, visual media is a conservationist’s gold in educating the world about conserving threatened wildlife.
My vision for Primate Wonder is no exception. When I threw myself into creating a website to educate people about primate conservation and encourage those interested to get involved, visual media was, and still is, at the forefront. We all have the natural tendency to pay more attention to visuals than we do to written content, and with technology having developed significantly over the last few decades this has well and truly reshaped the visual media landscape. But how has visual media impacted the way we educate primate conservation?
An impactful image
Images and graphics are one of the most utilised media in educating the public about primate conservation. The most compelling images produce 94% more views on average than content without these images. Showcasing impactful images of primates can be used in conservation to generate an emotional response, with the hope that it will capture the heart of the viewer, motivating a sense of compassion for the primates featured. Additionally, images are used by conservation organisations to gain public support to generate income for conservation work.
However, the balance between portraying exact science and capturing public interest can sometimes result in misleading messages. The IUCN recently published a document, “Best practice guidelines for responsible images of non-human primates.” This document discusses the effect of misleading and inappropriate images of primates, notably “primate selfies,” particularly on social media.
Inappropriate images can elicit a whole host of emotions on the internet, including a desire to be in close contact with primates, and many may draw mistaken conclusions from these images. A sanctuary, for example, may regularly expose images of orphan primates with a surrogate human mother, a necessary procedure in the rehabilitation process. However, if context is not given alongside this image, the public’s understanding of primates can be blurred. People living alongside wild primates may also misinterpret images and may not see primates as wild, which could drive the animal into the pet trade.
Lastly, images of primate-human contact may encourage the public to want to obtain their own images with “cute” and “cuddly” primates. Ultimately, images are a brilliant tool for conservationists to draw compassion from people. However, the use of primate images should always be used with caution and given visible context.
Videos capture hearts
With video platforms like YouTube and the explosion of TikTok, video is no longer a visual media tool that can be ignored. Each week, approximately 78% of internet users watch videos. Social network sites, such as YouTube, can be used as a complementary tool for learning. Videos can be a brilliant tool for sharing information fast and attractively. Many conservationists use videos to raise awareness and, with today’s technology, almost everyone has the opportunity to film and edit videos—allowing conservation organisations to document activities such as rescues and educate the public on meaningful topics such as the pet trade.
However, where there are brilliant and educational videos, some can cause counterproductive impacts on the public’s views towards primates and their conservation. Videos portraying human interaction with a primate skyrocket in views and popularity, but the primates in these videos are all-too-often anthropomorphised and are viewed as appealing pets, driving these species into the pet trade.
For instance, orangutan videos posted by legitimate rehabilitation and rescue organisations—such as International Animal Rescue and Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation—are more likely to get viewed if there are human-orangutan interactions. Comments alongside these videos are more likely to obtain negative messages towards orangutan conservation, particularly those featuring infant and juvenile orangutans. Words like “adorable” and “cute” are used frequently in comments to describe the orangutans—language which has previously been associated with (and has shown to contribute to) the pet trade.
As progress is made in educating and raising awareness about primates and their conservation, it is essential we are transparent about methods being achieved in primatology, and video is the perfect media for this. However, it is equally important to be mindful of how we use video as an educational source, ensuring we are using videos with caution of its perceived context. (Check out Asia for Animals for more on what primatologists are doing to prevent primates in videos https://www.asiaforanimals.com/smacc.)
The new graphic on the block
As new approaches to teaching continue to develop, so does visual media. In more recent years, aesthetically pleasing infographics have become a useful and informative way of educating. From a scientist’s perspective, an infographic is a fantastic way to visualise knowledge and data, and a way to represent lengthy and wordy reports into a universally understood media. Matched with eye-catching colours and diagrams, an infographic is the whole package. Infographics are 30X more likely to be read than text content, they are understood more than written content, and they remain in many people’s minds in the long-term. In primate conservation, transferring information easily is hugely beneficial. With approximately 62% of primates considered threatened, translating scientific information in a way that allows everyone to understand can bridge the gap between the public, scientists, and practitioners.
As a platform, my goal for Primate Wonder is to educate through encapsulating visuals. I hope through my social media channels and website I can enthuse people and draw compassion from around the world to encourage all to make a stand for our closest living relatives. As the internet expands, providing appropriate visual content of primates has never been so important.
Read more about the impact of visual media in conservation:
THE IMPACT OF EDUCATING THROUGH VISUAL MEDIA
The Dos and Don'ts
Having always been obsessed with nature, Joy found her love for primates when completing her undergraduate work placement at Wild Futures’ in Looe, Cornwall.
From there she went on to study a Master’s in Primate Conservation.
Joy then founded Primate Wonder (www.primatewonder.com @primatewonder), a website educating the public about primates, building an emphasis on primate conservation. Joy also works with Neotropical Primate Conservation (NPC).
When she’s not thinking about primates and the trees, Joy enjoys yoga, bouldering, spending time with her dogs, and live music.