Vortragsankündigung EASA 2016 (Mailand) Hunting wild animals in Germany: Conflicts between wildlife management and ‚traditional‘ practices of Hege and Waidgerechtigkeit

14th EASA Biennial Conference
Anthropological legacies and human futures
Department of Human Science for Education ‚Riccardo Massa‘ and Department of Sociology and Social Research at University of Milano-Bicocca
20-23 July, 2016

Panel: The return of the wild: fears – hopes – strategies. ethnographic encounters in wildlife management in Europe

The panel presents research into the politics and practices of dealing with wild animals such as bear, lynx, wolf or wildcat in Europe. It discusses the challenges that arise with the return and spread of wildlife and the associated hopes and conflicts from an anthropological perspective.

Hunting wild animals in Germany:

Conflicts between wildlife management and ‚traditional‘ practices of Hege and Waidgerechtigkeit (Dr Thorsten Gieser)

Almost 400,000 non-professional hunters are supposed to ‚manage‘ wildlife populations in Germany, killing an average of 4.5 million game animals per year in a process officially governed by forestry and conservation agencies. In public discourses, hunters‘ representative bodies often join ecological argumentations on the function of hunting for managing wildlife and ecosystems in order to justify their practice to the (overall) critical mainstream society. On the ground, however, hunters tend to vehemently refuse being labelled ‚managers‘ and instead claim to be engaged in Hege, a particular ‚traditional‘ form of stewardship that defines the hunters and their ‚fair‘ relationship with wild animals (called Waidgerechtigkeit). As a consequence, wildlife management has become a nexus of practices of power and resistance.

In this paper, I argue that the conflict between ecologically-motivated wildlife management and the hunters‘ practices of Hege centres a) on divergent human-animal relations and b) on divergent conceptions of the ‚wild‘. In wildlife management, ideas of ecology are fused with earlier (mainly North American) notions of unspoilt and untouched wilderness. Therefore, the discourse does not allow relationships with wild animals (other than killing, i.e. hunting reduced to its ecological function). For hunters, however, the relationship with wild animals is paramount and their practice thus calls into question the common notion of wilderness.

With this conflict in mind, we might ask: Is there a place for human-animal relationships in public discourses on wild animals?