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Cross-species tragedy and trauma in Australian bushfires 2005 – 2020. Changing discourses.

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Abstract

Nonhuman animals have always been impacted by bushfires in Australia. Yet this tragic reality has rarely been a significant focus of public media discourses. However, the unprecedented ferocity of the 2019/20 fire season has seen a shift in this focus, as traumatised bees, painfully (and fatally) burned sheep, cows and charismatic wildlife attracted both national and international media attention. This representation of nonhuman animals’ experiences has been markedly different to that seen in past fire seasons. This presentation draws on a discourse analysis of bushfire reporting in South Australia between 2005 and 2020. Publicly accessible media reporting was analysed to document: the prevalence of reporting nonhuman animal impacts across time; the language used to describe nonhuman animals and their experiences; and other indications of concern for nonhuman animals such as those regarding rescue and responses, calls for volunteers, and donations. Preliminary findings support the hypothesis that the number and representations of nonhuman animals’ experiences in the 2019/2020 bushfire period differ from reporting in previous years. Increasingly, nonhuman animals are positioned as fellow victims of bushfire. We conclude that public media discourse regarding the impacts of bushfires on nonhuman animals in Australia is shifting and posit further directions in this research.
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