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Accepted Paper:

Hunting wild animals in Germany: conflicts between wildlife management and 'traditional' practices of Hege and Waidgerechtigkeit  
Thorsten Gieser (University of Koblenz)

Paper short abstract:

Hunting wild animals in Germany has become a contested field as wildlife management regimes meet 'traditional' hunting practices of 'stewardship'. At the centre of this conflict we find divergent human-animal relations and divergent conceptions of the 'wild'.

Paper long abstract:

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?

Panel P057
The return of the wild: fears, hopes, strategies. Ethnographic encounters in wildlife management in Europe
  Session 1