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Hunter aims with a gun into the air for shooting birds

Ban on hunting captive bred animals achieved!

On 16 May 2017, the minister for hunting and rural affairs in the Austrian province of Lower Austria announced a ban on the hunting of bred animals in enclosures, bringing a successful end to the 2 year campaign to outlaw the practice in all 9 Austrian provinces.

The so called Gatterjagd involves breeding and then transporting animals to an enclosed space, where they will be shot by paying guests. A wide variety of animals are bred for this kind of hunting, ranging from wild boar through to ibex, chamois, fallow deer, mufflons and stags. For a stag with well developed antlers, a hunting guest will pay up to € 16,000. In addition to this hunting in enclosures, the hunting of animals bred for that purpose also extends to game birds like pheasants, partridges and ducks.

Official campaign video (German)

Not much was known about this kind of hunting by the general public until the VGT campaign was started. When in November 2013, a particular gatter hunt attended by several hunters well known in society took place, a neighbour informed VGT activists. It turned out that 93 wild boar were shot in this enclosure on this day, with an additional 60 being wounded and dying in the undergrowth over the next days. VGT filed complaints to the relevant authorities about this hunt, for animal abuse as well as for environmental reasons, and managed to get it into the media. The impetus of that was used in 2014 for the first demos about the practice as well as for a call for a ban on hunting wild animals bred for this purpose altogether. The campaign then formally started in spring of 2015.

At this time, there were 87 hunting enclosures throughout Austria, where about 100,000 animals were shot each year. In addition, more than 100,000 game birds were released for shooting each year in Austria. Vienna is not only the country’s capital, but also a province in its own right. It has one hunting enclosure which borders on the Vienna woods. This was the natural place to start. After a series of protests, city officials were keen to meet and formal discussions took place over a six month period leading to a wildlife management program consisting of incremental steps towards closing the 'gatter' by 1 January 2021. In spring of 2017, a ban of hunting all wild animals, including released game birds, also took effect.

With this initial positive result, the campaign went on to focus on the other provinces. The following methods were all employed to achieve the resulting ban:

Research and hunt monitoring
It was important to get the truth out about how gatter hunting works, which meant documenting all stages of the practice, from breeding to the death of the animals. Not much interested in transparency, those involved in gatter hunting were frequently aggressive towards people doing this research. Over the course of the campaign, hunt monitors went out 78 times to record events during hunts and report breaches of the law. A total of 40 complaints were filed by campaigners ranging from damage to property, animal cruelty and physical assault even to attempted murder! Also, about 50 hunting enclosures and pheasantries were documented.
Media actions
There's no end to creativity when campaigners get going. Over 100 media actions took place during the 2 years. Some of the many ideas carried out were; setting up a hunting enclosure in towns and city squares and having activists with animal masks being fired at with toy rifles from hunting platforms; one of Austria's top models body painted as a pheasant in a hunting enclosure; flash mobs and vigils where people silently held the dead bodies of animal victims of gatter hunting and so on. As the focus was on regional governments to respond to the campaign, actions such as swapping toilet paper in officials’ offices for rolls specially printed with (loosely translated) ‘enclosed hunting is only good for wiping your arse on' as well as modifying road signs marking province borders to include an against gatter hunting slogan were common. These actions were reported in the media 500 times! And what was important was that the reports were published in local and regional media where raising public awareness on the issue was crucial.
In addition to media actions, we made sure our presence was felt by those in the position to make a decision on the ban. This meant popping up with banners at places they were appearing and doing info-stalls in strategic places where they work. About 400 demos of this kind took place throughout the 2 years.
Press releases
All this campaign activity was ample material for daily press releases, making sure that any journalist with the slightest interest had no excuse not to be involved. Very important in this context is the fact, that media are more likely to report on conflicts between human groups within society than about animal abuse. Hence, it was vital to trigger such a conflict for the campaign to be newsworthy. And this worked to a large extent.
Open rescue
In October 2015, campaigners were made aware that Mensdorff-Pouilly, a weapons dealer and prominent hunter in Austria, would be breaching the law on an up coming game birds hunt. So, the opportunity was used to stage an open rescue of 17 partridges. This entailed informing the press that the rescue had happened and taking no measures to hide the identity of those doing the rescuing. The partridges have lived happily at a sanctuary ever since. Mensdorff-Pouilly never brought any charges against the rescuers, presumably because he knew that by this time, public support would be against him.
This proved to be the case when the results of an IFES survey commissioned by VGT showed that in autumn of 2015 altogether 70% were for a ban on gatter and game bird hunting. In spring of 2016, a media outlet followed this up with a second survey which found that a massive 91% were now in favour of a ban.
Expert opinions
Along with public opinion, it was important to let the facts speak for themselves. VGT commissioned reports from 5 experts in their field to look into not only animal suffering, but also the impact on the environment and whether a ban would infringe on the constitutional rights of those involved in the practice. All the reports provided strong arguments for a ban. On the question of constitutional rights, it was put forward that these could be protected by having adequate transition phases.
MEP involvement
We were fortunate enough to have the support of MEP Stefan Eck who contributed to raising public awareness by giving talks and joining media actions.
Press conferences
All of the above were presented in a total of 9 press conferences over the duration of the campaign.
What about the hunters?
In response to the campaign, the prominent hunters most involved in gatter hunting attempted to give the impression that they were dealing with radical extremists, but in the face of the public support and scientific arguments against them, this quickly backfired. Their other tactic has been to use expensive lawyers to press for charges and bring civil law suits against individual activists which would incur huge costs. One example of this is a prominent hunter claiming damages to the tune of € 110,000 based on comments he felt insulted by, made by people in response to FaceBook postings written by a campaigner.
Parliament also responds
Hunting falls under state legislation, which means each province has come to the ban independently. The law concerning animal protection however, is a federal matter. When campaigners met with the minister for animal welfare to discuss a ban on gatter hunting in the summer of 2015, she told them it had nothing to do with her. But as pressure built and a commission tasked with making a recommendation on the issue said there should be a ban based on the cruelty involved in the practice, parliament eventually passed an act banning the release of bred animals for hunting. The law does not specify particular animals but states the ban covers all animals unable to survive by themselves in the wild.
Bans in each province
One after the other, each province came up with their own ban in their own wording and with their own phase-out period. In essence, many of the gatters will have to close by 2023, but the last in the province of Lower Austria will be able to operate until January 2029.


It now remains to be seen how the bans will be enacted. It will of course be vital to continue to monitor what is happening. Mensdorff-Pouilly for example, has stated that he is building a new enclosure in Hungary and he will continue with gatter hunting after the transition phase passes in Austria too and if he gets charged, he will take it to the constitutional court.

Rescue of wild ducks in summer 2019 (German video)

Burgenland: Released captive-bred ducks helped over the Austrian border to safety

The conflict over releasing captive-bred ducks for shooting in the north of Burgenland along the river Leitha has been brewing for many years. Each July, thousands of captive-bred ducklings are brought to the river bank, temporarily held in small enclosures and then released for shooting in October. In between, hunt workers bring out tons of food every week to encourage the ducks to stay near by. In addition, all predators such as foxes, martens, polecats and weasels are hunted and killed so that as many of the helpless and flightless ducklings as possible will survive until the the day of the shoot. On Sunday, July 14th, around 20 animal activists appeared at the Leitha river and accompanied the approximately 500 young ducks to freedom in Hungary. Shortly before the border they were discovered and attacked by the hunt workers.

One of them jumped into the river and twice pushed an activist to the ground in the water. Another aggressor tried to take an activist's camera. Both attackers also threatened other activists. All incidents were documented on film and have been reported to the public prosecutor's office. The police appeared, but explained that the animal rights activists had done nothing criminally relevant in their eyes and let them leave unchallenged, against the will of the hunters. The 500 ducks have now disappeared into the thicket of the Hungarian floodplain forests and are hopefully safe from hunters' guns on the Austrian side.

VGT's Martin Balluch commented: "Thousands of animals are bred and released on Austrian soil without any permission and clearly against the will of the majority of the population, only to be shot. Mallard ducks are not rare, and their release is purely for the hunters' fun. Even the mayor has spoken out clearly against it. The water is poisoned, the landscape is polluted. Since the authorities make no effort to put this right, activists have have taken action themselves and helped the young ducks over the border to safety.

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