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Political Animals

News of the Natural World

Alec Charles

Newspapers have long been enthralled by accounts of cute, cuddly, strange, dangerous and endangered beasts, and by extraordinary and sometimes apocryphal narratives of natural phenomena. This study explores the incidence of several such stories in the British press: from reports of the "ethnic" conflicts between different species of squirrel to the tragedy of Cecil the slaughtered Zimbabwean lion. It takes in, along the way, the celebrity of Knut the polar bear, the Tamworth Two and the Exmoor Emperor. It surveys the media representation of the natural landscape from the crocodile-infested reaches of the River Thames out as far as the bleak wastes of the former planet Pluto. In doing so, and in conversation with reporters and players in these tales, it investigates the political subtexts and social meanings of such stories, and seeks thereby to reveal the real value of such soft, sentimental and sometimes silly news.
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Chapter 4: Stag


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The comic actor Steve Coogan in the ninth episode of his online sitcom Mid Morning Matters (2011) and in the guise of his celebrated alter ego, North Norfolk Digital radio presenter Alan Partridge, imagined a future scenario in which Britain’s ‘last osprey egg is stolen and scrambled for a Russian oligarch’s breakfast – who eats it without one iota of remorse.’ Coogan appears here to be satirizing the furore which had engulfed the UK news media just a few months earlier when another noble representative of Britain’s native fauna had been reported slaughtered, apparently at the hands of a wealthy foreign national.

On 27 October 2010 the second issue of the Independent’s sister paper i chose the shooting of a deer as its cover story. The story of the killing of the stag reputed to have been Britain’s largest wild animal and known as the Exmoor Emperor recurred in the pages of the UK’s national press for a fortnight, and included rumours of the beast’s resurrection and of the triumphs of his progeny. One might reasonably inquire why, in the words of Sarah Stride (interviewed for this chapter), the General Manager of the British Deer Society, ‘it appealed as a story on so many levels.’ Did the fate of the Emperor stag symbolize the demise of Britain’s greatness at a time of national austerity – coming as it did exactly a week after the publication of the British Government’s...

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