Why does the EU prefer predators to people?
A Swedish hunter tells spiked that Brussels bureaucrats don’t understand why it’s good to cull wolves and foxes.
The Swedish National Hunters Association’s call for a nationwide fox hunt, following the discovery of a fox contaminated with a rare tapeworm, is likely to get animal rights advocates riled up. After all, when the Swedish parliament permitted a small number of wolves to be culled between 15 January and 15 February this year, local conservationists got so worked up that they demanded that Sweden be dragged to the European Court of Justice.
Following a complaint filed by four Swedish environmental and animal conservationist groups, the European Commission mounted a legal challenge against Sweden, accusing it of breaching EU environmental law. The case is further proof – if such proof were needed – of the aloofness of Brussels bureaucrats and of cosmopolitan environmental conservationists.
The legal challenge is revealing in two respects. First, it shows that the EU has become a bastion of hope for those who have no qualms about overriding political decisions that have been reached through the democratic process – in other words, decisions taken by political representatives purporting to act in their electorates’ interests. Second, it reveals a deep disconnect between, on the one hand, those who live in close proximity with nature and who know that controlling it and taming it is necessary in order to protect human interests, and on the other hand those who view nature as a fragile ecosystem that ought to be kept intact and protected against human desires.
As Johan Boström, head of communications at the Swedish National Hunters Association, told spiked, ‘The closer you live to predatory animals, the more critical and negative you are towards them, because they are a threat to your interests’. Boström, who is originally from Boden in north-eastern Sweden, stresses that in rural areas hunting is not simply a recreational activity, it’s a necessity.
So in the rowdy debate that ensued after the Swedish parliament’s announcement that the wolf hunt would go ahead for the second year in a row in 2011, different interests were pitted against one another: rural populations who know all too well that wolves and foxes are called ‘predatory’ for a good reason – they kill farm animals and pets and cause damage to property – versus those who regard humans as predatory creatures who need to be controlled and reined in lest they wreak havoc in Mother Nature.
Boström suggests that cosmopolitan types’ misunderstanding of the motivations behind hunts is down to a lack of understanding of rural populations’ particular living conditions. ‘Not everyone can live in the city and, for people who chose to stay in the countryside, hunts are a big part of their lives. Therefore, decisions about policies around predatory animals should be taken with consideration for those who are affected by them… This is a national issue, and not something that the EU should rule over.’
Sweden is home to a majority of Scandinavia’s wolves – an estimated 200 in total. In 2010, the Swedish parliament allowed for a culling of 26 wolves after a 46-year hunting hiatus. During this year’s one-month hunting season, which ended on Tuesday, hunters were permitted to shoot just 20 wolves across six regions. Apparently, one got away and only 19 were shot. ‘It’s too bad. We would have gladly taken it’, the head of the hunters’ association in the central Swedish region of Västmanland told the TT news agency.
The purpose of the cull was not to give hunters a fun day out, as many animal rights activists seem to believe. In fact, it protects animals, too. After all, wolves tend to attack tame animals and hunting dogs. In addition, the gene pool of Sweden’s wolves is currently very weak, as it is a largely inbred population, and so the parliament has insisted that wolves from Finland and Russia will be imported to replace the killed animals.
The presidents of the Swedish National Hunters Association and the Federation of Swedish Farmers have pointed out that the Swedish parliament’s policy actually balances the consideration of animal welfare with the interests of those who are negatively affected by predatory animals. They said that it is not surprising that changes in hunting policies have evoked strong feelings among those who view ‘predatory animal politics from a distance and who are not themselves affected by predatory animals’. However, they continued, for those who ‘live in the countryside, predatory animals are present all days of the year – and for them it is not as easy only to see the benefits of having large predatory animal populations’.
As for this week’s call for a nationwide fox hunt, Johan Boström tells spiked that there has been no official response from animal rights groups so far. He suspects that many are awaiting the outcome of examinations by Sweden’s National Veterinary Institute (SVA). The SVA has urged hunters to send them fox specimens for research in order to determine how widespread the cyclophyllid tapeworm contamination is. It is the first time that the parasite, which can cause serious illness in humans, has been found in Sweden. It can be transmitted to humans via wild berries and tame animals. However, the outraged response to one Swedish newspaper columnist’s sarcastic suggestion that the Hunters Association doesn’t go far enough, and that Sweden should promote an English-style foxhunting culture, gives a good indication of how animal welfarists would react to an extended fox hunt.
Animal rights activists are seldom satisfied by reasonable motivations for hunts anyway. There is a general perception that hunting is first and foremost a cruel sport that renders entire animal species extinct. Boström wants to dispel any fears of such nightmare scenarios. He says the call for a national fox hunt will not lead to some kind of vigilante foxhunting craze and it will not lead to the extinction of foxes. In fact, he says, today in Sweden only the arctic fox is under threat of extermination – not by humans, but by the red fox.
The Swedish conservationist groups filing complaints with the EU have simultaneously shown up their lack of respect for the democratic process and their lack of empathy with fellow citizens trying to protect their livelihoods. They are motivated by a romantic notion of unspoilt nature, untarnished by man’s intervention. But as Boström says: ‘It’s frankly naive to think that wild animals can take care of themselves – after all man has been managing them for thousands of years.’
In fact, to put an end to hunts would not just be naive – it would also be very cruel. The European Commission should call off its hunt on culling.
Nathalie Rothschild is commissioning editor of spiked. Visit her personal website here.