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Biosemiotics

, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 463–482 | Cite as

Emergence of the “Howling Foxes”: A Semiotic Analysis of Initial Interpretations of the Golden Jackal (Canis aureus) in Estonia

  • Timo MaranEmail author
Article

Abstract

The article attempts to bridge semiotics with species conservation and management. Biosemiotic and cultural semiotic methodology is applied in the analysis of a case study – the early occurrence of the golden jackal (Canis aureus) in Estonia. Nine semi-structured interviews were carried out with the local inhabitants of the Matsalu region, professional zoologists and environmental officials who were involved in the golden jackals’ discourse. The interviews were analyzed for interactions between golden jackals and humans, expected ecological effects of golden jackals, communication between different interest groups and central cultural motifs used to interpret the new species. It is argued that in the development of this discourse, the golden jackals’ own activity has played an essential role. At the same time, human cultural models also influence the interpretation of a new species to a considerable degree. Two of such models – the opposition of the own and the alien and the “settler’s” narrative – are brought out and analyzed. The effect of the fear of the unknown is also specified. To improve human communication about new or invasive species, it is suggested to raise awareness of the underlying cultural models and to use integrative communication as the developing discourse is dynamical and constantly changing for all interest groups. For a semiotic study of species management, it is suggested to combine methodology from biosemiotics, cultural semiotics and actor-network theory.

Keywords

Environmental change Non-native species Invasive species Golden jackal Applied biosemiotics Cultural modeling The own and the alien 

Notes

Acknowledgments

The research for this article was supported by the European Union through the European Regional Development Fund (Centre of Excellence for Cultural Theory), also under institutional research grant IUT02-44 from the Estonian Research Council and under project contract EMP151 by the Norway Financial Mechanism 2009–2014.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

The study follows ethical standards of qualitative research in social sciences. The respondents have been informed about the aims of the study, their personal identity has been concealed, and interviews have been conducted with the informed consent of the respondents. The study follows the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. The approval of the research ethics committee is not required for this type of qualitative study.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SemioticsUniversity of TartuTartuEstonia

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