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To Study Human-Wildlife Encounters, Scientists Turn to Tik Tok

Herders on the Tibetan plateau are prone to seeing gray wolves, snow leopards, brown bears, and other wildlife, with the potential for conflict. Historically, it has been difficult to study these encounters, but the rise of smartphones has given researchers a valuable new tool — videos of wildlife taken by the herders themselves.

For a new study led by the Yale School of the Environment, scientists combed through social media videos of wildlife encounters in the Sanjiangyuan region of the Tibetan plateau. Researchers assembled 207 videos from TikTok and other platforms, including 49 videos of gray wolves, 93 of snow leopards, and 65 of brown bears.

In most of the videos, the humans and wildlife left each other alone. Around a quarter of the videos showed wildlife interfering with humans by attacking livestock or damaging property. “Wolves used to run away from humans, but now they would not — herders want to record this behavior,” said one local interviewed for the study.

Brown bears were the only species that tried to use human tools, attempting to open doors or break open cans, or getting stuck in the large plastic barrels that herders use to store yak butter. Six videos showed humans aiding wildlife, such as by rescuing an animal from a trap or providing one with water.

Taken together, the videos showed that humans and animals are not living in distinct habitats, but sharing the landscape. Herders believe that large carnivores are increasingly encroaching on villages because they have lost their fear of humans.

The research, published in the journal Conservation Society and Practice, offers a new way to study animal encounters in remote areas. The authors said that social media videos could play a significant role in understanding how humans and wildlife can peacefully coexist.


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