Shoot shovel and sanction yourself: Self-policing as a response to wolf poaching among Swedish hunters

Ambio. 2019 Mar;48(3):230-239. doi: 10.1007/s13280-018-1072-5. Epub 2018 Jun 28.


Self-policing is essential for addressing wildlife-related crime where illegal activity is extremely diffuse, and limited resources are available for monitoring and enforcement. Emerging research on self-policing suggest key drivers including economics, folk traditions, and socio-political resistance. We build on this research with a case study evaluating potential drivers of self-policing illegal wolf killing among Swedish hunting teams. Swedish hunters marginally leaned toward considering illegal hunting of wolves an expression of resistance (10.30 out of a possible 17 on a resistance scale) and strongly believed outsiders had undue influence over hunting (15.79 out of a possible 21 on an influence scale). Most (73%) Swedish hunters stated they would report illegal wolf killing to authorities, but 20% stated they would handle the infractions through internal sanctions. Viewing illegal hunting of wolves as a form of political resistance, viewing wolf management as being controlled locally, and perceived prevalence of illegal wolf killing among hunting acquaintances were positive predictors of preferring internal sanctions to address illegal wolf killing over reporting the crimes. Resistance and perceived prevalence of wolf killing also predicted preferring no action to address illegal wolf killing. These results suggest that a counterpublic of marginalized ruralism may promote forms of self-policing that rely on internal censure for illegal wolf killing rather than using formal legal channels. Similarly, folk traditions within this counterpublic (e.g., perceptions of prevalence of illegal wolf killing) shape if and how internal sanctions are advocated. Re-engaging marginalized hunting groups and emphasizing the rarity of illegal wolf killing may promote wolf conservation, both in Sweden and in other democratic regimes.

Keywords: Hunting; Poaching; Power; Predators; Resistance; Social influence; Wolves.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Wild
  • Conservation of Natural Resources
  • Crime
  • Sweden
  • Wolves*