By the time a small group of researchers set out to investigate the phenomenon of “animal crossing” in a remote desert, they were already grappling with one of the biggest challenges in research: the lack of reliable, high-quality data on the phenomenon.
In a series of papers published last year, researchers at the University of Sydney and the University, Oxford in the United Kingdom found that animal crossings are rare, occurring in only 0.1% of all crossings.
And in a separate paper, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B in 2016, the same researchers found that more than a quarter of all crossings in the world occur at night, far below the expected number of crossings during the day.
A team of Australian researchers has since tried to replicate these results with a more detailed survey of the crossings in remote areas in Papua New Guinea and found that the number of animal crossings has fallen by over half, from over 5,000 in 2009 to fewer than 100 in 2016.
And the reasons for this are complex and nuanced.
Some researchers have argued that the lack-of-research bias is due to the lack “of trust” in researchers and researchers in general.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the world is full of people and animals.
The same researchers have also argued that “the lack of research” is also due to a lack of “awareness” about the phenomenon, which they suggest is often down to people simply not knowing what they are looking for when they cross.
But even if that’s true, there’s no doubt that the research gap remains.
“People are not really aware of the issue,” says Dr. John Pemberton, a professor of psychology at the Royal Institute of Technology in London and an expert in human-animal interactions.
“So the lack in knowledge can have a negative impact.”
The researchers at Oxford and the Sydney lab wanted to understand what it is that makes people risk-averse and act in ways that are risky.
PemberTON: People think they are safe when they are doing things that are safe and they don’t feel the same way when they’re doing things differently.
And if they are, then they are more likely to be risk-taking, PemberSON: “So if we want to understand the nature of risk taking and risk avoidance, we need to look at what people are doing,” he says.
Pomeroy, a psychologist at the Australian National University, agreed that the researchers were working with “very young” animals.
But she added that the study’s “very interesting” and pointed out that it provides a useful insight into how humans might respond to the issue of animal crossing.
“This is a very old phenomenon, and there’s a lot of debate about the issue, and the question is, what is the appropriate level of risk-free behavior for the species?”
PomerOY: So if the species has to be highly risk-sensitive, we can be highly risky, she said.
PEMBROY: It is not an easy task.
There is no clear answer, because we have to look to a whole host of factors, but I think the answer is that people are not very good at learning from others.
They are very trusting, they are very pragmatic, they want to be safe.
PimmerTON: Some animal crossings have been done by people who have no training or experience, but others have involved animals that have been trained and socialized to act as a group.
How do you teach animals to behave in groups?
PEMPROY: They have to learn to be social, so if they do, then you have to have a hierarchy, so that the individual that gets to the top of the hierarchy is going to have more freedom.
But they also have to be able to communicate with each other, and then they have to communicate by using gestures.
POMBROY:”So when we have trained animals and they have been socialized, they have become very familiar with the environment and they are learning to do the different things that you teach them to do,” Pemberson said.
And as the research team continued to work with these animals, the researchers found they were able to teach them different behaviors, such as moving to a different location and crossing to another area.
Pembroy says the findings of the Oxford study may provide some clues about what causes humans to act risk-prone.
“It’s probably an evolutionary reason for humans to be very risk-conscious and risk-seeking, because otherwise you would be in trouble if you did something that you didn’t want to do and that is not in the nature for us to do.”
Pembroke agrees that the findings from Oxford and Sydney provide valuable information, but he says they should be treated with caution.
“The question is why, exactly, are we risk- averse and not risk-aware,” he said.
“We need to get better at understanding what is going on, because there are a lot more variables than we