Wildlife & Biodiversity

Legal trophy hunting in Sweden puts interests of a few over ecological balance

The red-listed lynx does little damage to livestock, but a record number are now being hunted purely for sport  

By Misha Istratov
Published: Friday 26 May 2023
The lynx is both protected and red-listed within the European Union. Sweden has approximately 1,450 lynxes. Photo: iStock

The first reaction to someone spotting a lynx on a beautiful winter day in a forest can be one of wonder and gratitude. But around 3,000 people every year in March would eagerly queue up to pull out a rifle and shoot the lynx. Over 9,000 Swedes have registered this year for such an opportunity. 

Sweden is one of the world’s role models on humanitarian issues, anti-corruption, and democracy. But we will find something amiss if we look closer at these presumptions. 

The lynx is both protected and red-listed within the European Union. Despite this, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (also known as Naturvardsverket) has delegated the right to decide on “licensed hunting” to counties (Länsstyrelsen) around the country.

Read more: Politics over science: Experts slam Sweden’s wolf cull; say it should learn to live with large carnivores

The hunters’ interest organizations strongly influence these decisions, while the decision-makers are often hunters themselves. Open corruption and even connections to Nazi ideas are foundation stones for the decisions these matters are based upon.

Sweden has approximately 1,450 lynxes and this year, the counties decided that a record 201 are to be killed. Last year, 108 were shot and 82 were killed the year before. 

Authorities claimed the hunting will protect grazing domestic animals such as sheep and reindeer. The reindeer are found in northern Sweden, where 32 lynxes will be killed. 

The other 169 lynxes will be shot in southern Sweden, where there are no reindeer. Here the hunt is advocated to protect sheep and goats, of which 61 were attacked by lynxes in 2021, according to the Swedish Wildlife Damage Centre

At this juncture, a strange imbalance can be discerned. Is it right to kill 169 wild animals to save 61 domestic ones? Not to forget that these domesticated animals are intended to be slaughtered for human consumption.

A mere three per cent of Sweden’s population of 10 million constitute hunters. This means that 97 per cent of Swedes do not hunt. This large majority does not have a say in things as the new Prime Minister, the King and some of the most influential people in Sweden are eager hunters. 

There is even a shooting range under the Parliament building in Stockholm. The tax money of the highest-taxed country in the world goes to supporting one group’s hobby, a group that represents three per cent of the population.

Read more: Which way ahead for biodiversity conservation? Answer may lie in communities


The Swedish Hunters Association (Svenska Jägarförbundet), which is the main lobbying force behind these matters, found its core values in the Nazi principles that man is above nature. In essence, this means that Man is entitled to manage life in the forests and kill it for recreation. 

Nazis even had an infamous honorary member, Hermann Göhring, who had a Swedish wife. The same man who was Hitler’s second in command, founded the Gestapo and was a passionate hunter.

Sweden’s new Minister for Rural Affairs is an enthusiastic hunter. His predecessors were also hunters. Would it be acceptable for a Minister of Education to own private schools? Or that the Secretary of Defense was the chief executive of a weapons manufacturer? Probably not. 

How is it, then, that those deciding on wildlife management are always passionate hunters? Isn’t that the definition of corruption?

The main problem, as I see it, is that three per cent of the population decides what happens in the forests. The other 97 per cent who want it to be a place of magic and wonder have to make way for a small fraction of people that enjoy killing animals as a hobby.

One might argue that this is hardly befitting a country that claims to have high democratic standards.

Looking closer at the justification for the hunting, some lynx hunters argue that the lynx is competing for other game they want to prey on themselves, such as deer. This means that they want the bonus action of the lynx hunt and then have more deer left for them to put down. 

Meanwhile, society pays for their enjoyment when deer end up on bumpers and windshields as their natural predator, who manages their numbers, is not around. Statistics show that every living lynx is worth up to €50,000 in saved costs for society in terms of insurance and medical expenses.

This is a hot topic, even among hunters. Many hunters I interviewed, who hunt for their food, consider lynx hunting to be reprehensible. Most people who hunt lynx are trophy hunters. Many are Swedes, but some companies invite foreign trophy hunters to make money.

According to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, over 300 people visited Sweden this year to shoot the red-listed lynx.

If you Google lynx hunting, you will find pictures of happy hunters posing with the dead animal hanging in their grip. In almost all the photos, you see broad smiles.

Where does this joy in killing fit into wildlife conservation? And how reasonable is it that the authorities support people who hunt for the pleasure of killing wild animals?

According to the rules, the hunter may keep the skin of the hunted animals but must send the rest of the body to the Veterinary Institute. The fact that the skin is sought after is something that further supports my conclusion.

The decision-makers on hunting in Sweden are politicians and civil servants who are themselves hunters.


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These decisions cater to hunting interests rather than wildlife conservation, which is proven by the fact that researchers and nature conservation organisations both in Sweden and internationally (such as the non-profit World Wide Fund for Nature) question the decisions. 

In this case, the enjoyment and economic interests of a few people are placed before the biological balance and the advice of experts.

We see how our planet’s biospheres are collapsing around us and almost all experts agree — let nature manage itself. Because when people try to manage nature, it generally always goes wrong. The lynx hunt is, unfortunately, one of many examples.

Looking at positive examples like the trophic cascade in Yellowstone, where wolves have been reintroduced to their natural habitat and thus have balanced the whole ecosystem, is a must for us humans looking forward.

Singapore, Kenya, Costa Rica and India have all banned recreational hunting. That has led to tremendous ecological developments and I am convinced that it has also brought people closer to nature.

Some say that we live in a cold and sometimes brutal world. I disagree. Our world is marvellous, but unfortunately, some people make cold-blooded and ruthless choices, like using dogs to chase iconic wild cats up in trees, shoot them, watch their bodies fall and finally publish their proud day’s work on social media.

I believe violence begets violence. I also believe that how we treat the defenceless in our society reflects our moral progress and how our society develops. Imagine letting wild animals roam freely and admire them from a distance.

I am convinced people who hunt lynx can find other enjoyable pastimes. Being in nature (without weapons) can be wonderful and inspiring.

Misha Istratov is an environmental entrepreneur and conservation spokesperson

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

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