Hunters' hare-brained scheme under fire from environmental lobby

Photo: Hans-Jörg Hellwig, Wikimedia Commons, License Creative Commons 3.0 Unported

One of the less publicised effects of last summer's devastating floods was a sharp fall in the country's hare population. Thousands of hares - as well as rabbits - fled from the floods, which hit large parts of Bohemia in August. And believe it or not the government is taking the matter seriously: the agricultural ministry is to spend millions to make up the shortfall. But not everyone's happy with the plan, as Rob Cameron reports.

Photo: Hans-Jörg Hellwig,  Wikimedia Commons,  License Creative Commons 3.0 Unported
The story appeared in Saturday's edition of Mlada Fronta Dnes, providing some welcome relief from the endless speculation as to who will become the next president. Last year's floods, it seems, have left the hare population seriously depleted, a situation the Czech Republic's powerful hunting lobby was keen to rectify.

The national hunting association invested seven million crowns - that's around a quarter of a million dollars - importing Hungarian hares to return numbers to normal. If they hadn't taken action, they say, the hare's natural predators - such as foxes and hawks - would begin targeting the country's farm animals instead. The Agricultural Ministry gave the thumbs-up to the plan, and has promised to pick up the bill.

The nation's 100,000 hunters enjoy a curiously ambiguous role in protecting the environment: on one hand they're responsible for feeding wild animals such as hares and deer, on the other they spend much of the year shooting at them. They say they're providing a crucial regulatory role - the Hungarian hare plan being a shining example.

But environmental activists say the scheme is simply hare-brained. Mother Nature, they say, should be left to deal with the problem, in whatever way she sees fit. They argue the hunters and their powerful patrons (the Agricultural Minister is himself a keen hunter) are part of the problem, not the solution. The hares didn't drown in the floods, they merely fled their natural habitats alongside the flooded rivers. And as one environmental activist put it - if the hares weren't being constantly shot at in the first place, they might be more likely to come back.