The Cost Of Small-Scale Hunting On A Big-Scale Bird

Achieving international biodiversity targets: learning from local norms, values and actions regarding migratory waterfowl management in Kazakhstan (2022) Jones et al., Journal of Applied Ecology,

The Crux

Some species that we consider local treasures have ranges that extend over vaste swathes of the planet, and some of these make use of those entire ranges. This is probably most obvious in bird species. Some of the locals that have been popping up in my neighbourhood as spring kicks off have been spending the winter on the other half of the planet, and have made use of countless other locations on their journeys between the two endpoints.

This makes conservation a headache. Just because a species is beloved and protected at one end of its range doesn’t mean it’s afforded the same luxury at another end. Even if the species is internationally recognised as threatened, that doesn’t mean every location it visits will respect – or even be aware – of this status. That means that to protect migratory species, we need to figure out the most important parts of their ranges, and work with the people who live there to ensure the birds persist. Today’s paper is an investigation into how effective this sort of work could prove in the future.

What They Did

Northern Kazakhstan is a crucial area for millions of waterfowl, who stopover on the way to and from the Arctic every year. Among those birds are the Greater White-fronted Geese (Anser albifroms), which were listed as vulnerable by the IUCN after recent population declines. The birds look very similar to the Greylag Goose (Anser anser), which is not a threatened species and widely hunted.

Northern Kazakhstan also houses a large population of hunters, estimated to be between 10,000 and 15,000. 197 people were surveyed, 70 of which owned hunting licences. Their knowledge of the protected status of the goose in question, as well as their hunting of other non-protected wildfowl, were surveyed to see if there was a disconnect between the goose’s status locally and internationally. Lastly, a demographic model was constructed to test for the effect of a lack of hunting upon the goose’s populations.

Did You Know: Goose on the Loose

Much goose hunting is a cultural practice, yet in some parts of the world invasive goose species pose massive threats to crops. The Greater Canada Goose, known for terrorising humans throughout most of the Northern Hemisphere, is a huge pain for farmers, and their dropping contribute to freshwater eutrophication when in large enough numbers. They’re one of only four birds on the EU commissioned list of Europe’s 100 worst invasive species.

Read More: The Greater Canada Goose

What They Found

Over a third of people surveyed did not know that the geese were protected. Though having a licence made someone more likely to know that the geese were protected, about 11% of licenced hunters were also unaware they were protected. There was no indication that hunting of other wildfowl species was taking place in spring or summer, which is almost certainly a result of a recent ban on goose hunting during these seasons.

In the absence of illegal hunting, the Greater White-fronted Geese populations are predicted to rise, though this is reversed, potentially to the point of extinction, if harvesting of the populations become legal again.

The Greylag Goose, which the Greater White-Fronted Goose is often mistaken for (Image Credit: Matthew S. Staben, CC BY-SA 3.0)


One of the most frustrating things about these socio-ecological surveys is that while the study concerns illegal hunting activity, it is almost impossible to get a straight answer from a hunter or fisher concerning illegal activity. As such, researchers need to ask questions about their other practices to see if they can infer whether or not subjects are likely to engage in the practice. It’s a part and parcel of this sort of study, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating.

So What?

Accidental take of the Greater White-fronted Geese when it’s mistaken for more common species is a big threat to the goose. As such, local knowledge in areas vital to its survival needs to improve. Accidental kills are rated at 1-3 of the protected species for every 100 of the more common ones. That might seem small, but given that Greylag Goose are hunted in the tens of thousands, it means that while knowledge of its protected status among hunters was pretty good, improving that knowledge to avoid these kills could really help the species out of the vulnerable category.

Dr. Sam Perrin is a freshwater ecologist who completed his PhD at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology who wants to reassure everyone that given the evidence available the plural of moose must be meese. You can read more about his research and the rest of the Ecology for the Masses writers here, see more of his work at Ecology for the Masses here, or follow him on Twitter here.

Title Image Credit: Dr. Georg Wietschorke, Pixabay licence, Image Cropped

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