Human Ecology

, Volume 41, Issue 3, pp 447–457 | Cite as

Hunting, Social Structure and Human–Nature Relationships in Lower Omo, Ethiopia: People and Wildlife at a Crossroads

  • Degu Tadie
  • Anke FischerEmail author


Hunting is often either portrayed as the ultimate means to enact a close connection between the human being and nature, or investigated in terms of its contribution to livelihoods. Through in-depth interviews and focus group discussions, we explored the meaning of hunting in the lower Omo valley, Ethiopia, and found that large game hunting was best understood as an activity that served to establish and maintain human–human relationships. Hunting was important as it created the basis for long-term bond-relations between a hunter and his friend (‘misso’) and a hunter and his honorary elder sister (‘misha’) that could be drawn on in times of hardship. By contrast, interactions between hunter and wildlife were given hardly any attention by our participants. We discuss implications in relation to the stark decline in wildlife and the degradation of grazing land over the last decades, and the consequences of our findings for conservation and development activities.


Omo valley Ethiopia Hunting Informal institutions Social capital Symbolic capital 



The authors would like to thank all participants of the group discussions and interviews for their contributions, as well as our interpreters Manyahlew Girma, Berki Belayneh, Hora Gacha and Tilahun Kibret, Fetene Hailu for his help, and Deborah Randall for all her work at the start of this project. Liz Dinnie, Karen Laurenson, Zelealem T. Ashenafi, Justin Irvine and an anonymous reviewer provided helpful comments on earlier versions of this manuscript, and Bill Slee and Charlie Mackie suggested useful literature. This work was conducted as part of the project “HUNT” (Hunting for Sustainability, and funded by the European Union’s Framework Programme 7 and Frankfurt Zoological Society.


  1. Adger, W. N., Benjaminsen, T. A., Brown, K., and Svarstad, H. (2001). Advancing a Political Ecology of Global Environmental Discourses. Development and Change 32: 681–715.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Allik, J., and Realo, A. (2004). Individualism–Collectivism and Social Capital. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 35: 29–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Almagor, U. (1978). Pastoral Partners: Affinity and Bond Partnership Among the Dassanetch of South-West Ethiopia. Manchester University Press, Manchester.Google Scholar
  4. Ashenafi, Z. T., and Leader-Williams, N. (2005). Indigenous Common Property Resource Management in the Central Highlands of Ethiopia. Human Ecology 33: 539–563.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bourdieu, P. (1977). Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cahoone, L. (2009). Hunting as a Moral Good. Environmental Values 18: 67–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Carr, C. (1977). Pastoralism in Crisis: The Dassenech and their Ethiopian lands. Chicago University Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
  8. Colding, J., and Folke, C. (2001). Social taboos: “Invisible” Systems of Local Resource Management and Biological Conservation. Ecological Applications 11: 584–600.Google Scholar
  9. Dahles, H. (1993). Game Killing and Killing Games: An Anthropologist Looking at Hunting in a Modern Society. Society and Animals 1: 169–184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Demeke, Y. (2003). Law Enforcement, Illegal Activity and Elephant Status in Mago and Omo National Parks and Adjacent Areas, Ethiopia. Pachyderm 35: 16–30.Google Scholar
  11. Demeke, Y., and Bekele, A. (2000). Population Estimates and Threats to Elephants Loxodonta africana (Blumbach 1797) in the Mago National Park, Ethiopia. Tropical Zoology 13: 227–237.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. De Merode, E., Homewood, K., and Cowlishaw, G. (2004). The Value of Bushmeat and Other Wild Foods to Rural Households Living in Extreme Poverty in Democratic Republic of Congo. Biological Conservation 118: 573–581.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Elfmann, P. (2005). Women’s world in Dassanech, southern Ethiopia. Working Paper 53. Johannes Gutenberg Universität, Mainz. Available online: [accessed January 2012].
  14. Epple, S. (1995). Life in Gunne: Social relationships in a village in Bashada, south Ethiopia. M.A. Thesis, Johannes Gutenberg Universität, Mainz. Available online: [accessed January 2012].
  15. Fa, J. E., Currie, D., and Meeuwig, J. (2003). Bushmeat Hunting and Food Security in the Congo Basin: Linkages Between Wildlife and People’s Future. Environmental Conservation 30: 71–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fischer, A., Sandström, C., Delibes-Mateos, M., Arroyo, B., Tadie, D., Randall, D., Hailu, F., Lowassa, A., Msuha, M., Kerezi, V., Reljić, S., Linnell, J., and Majić Skrbinšek, A. (2013). On the Multifunctionality of Hunting—An Institutional Analysis of Eight Cases from Europe and Africa. Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, in press.Google Scholar
  17. Gebre, A. (1993). The Arbore of southern Ethiopia: A study of inter-ethnic relations, social organisation and production practises. M.A. Thesis, Addis Ababa University.Google Scholar
  18. Homewood, K. M., and Rodgers, W. A. (1987). Pastoralism, conservation and the overgrazing controversy. In Anderson, D., and Grove, R. (eds.), Conservation in Africa: People, Policies and Practice. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 111–128.Google Scholar
  19. Inglehart, R., and Welzel, C. (2005). Modernization, Cultural Change, and Democracy: The Human Development Sequence. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  20. Jones, J. P. G., Andriamarovololona, M. M., and Hockley, N. (2008). The Importance of Taboos and Social Norms to Conservation in Madagascar. Conservation Biology 22: 976–986.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kideghesho, J. R. (2008). Co-Existence Between the Traditional Societies and Wildlife in Western Serengeti, Tanzania: Its Relevancy in Contemporary Wildlife Conservation Efforts. Biodiversity and Conservation 17: 1861–1881.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. King, R. H. J. (2010). Hunting—a return to nature? In Kowalsky, N. (ed.), Hunting—Philosophy for Everyone: In Search of the Wild Life. Blackwell, Chichester, pp. 149–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Krange, O., and Skogen, K. (2007). Reflexive Tradition: Young Working-Class Hunters Between Wolves and Modernity. Young - Nordic Journal of Youth Research 15: 215–233.Google Scholar
  24. Largen, M. J., and Yalden, D. W. (1987). The Decline of Elephant and Black Rhinoceros in Ethiopia. Oryx 21: 103–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. List, C. (2004). On the Moral Distinctiveness of Sport Hunting. Environmental Ethics 26: 155–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Loibooki, M., Hofer, H., Campbell, K. L. I., and East, M. (2002). Bushmeat Hunting by Communities Adjacent to Serengeti National Park, Tanzania: The Importance of Livestock Ownership and Alternative Sources of Protein and Income. Environmental Conservation 29: 391–398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lowassa, A., Tadie, D., and Fischer, A. (2012). On the Role of Women In Bushmeat Hunting—Insights from Tanzania and Ethiopia. Journal of Rural Studies 28: 622–630.Google Scholar
  28. Lydall, J., and Strecker, I. (1979a). The Hamar of southern Ethiopia, Volume I: Work Journal Hohenschäftlarn. Available online: [accessed September 2011].
  29. Lydall, J., and Strecker, I. (1979b). The Hamar of southern Ethiopia, Volume II: Baldambe explains. Klaus Renner, Hohenschäftlarn. Available online: [accessed September 2011].
  30. Marks, S. A. (1976/2005). Large Mammals and a Brave People—Subsistence Hunters in Zambia. Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick.Google Scholar
  31. Milbourne, P. (2003). Hunting Ruralities: Nature, Society and Culture in ‘Hunt Countries’ of England and Wales. Journal of Rural Studies 19: 157–171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Miyawaki, Y. (1996). Cultivation strategies and historical change of sorghum varieties in the Hoor of southern Ethiopia. Essays in northeast African studies, Senri Ethnological Studies 43, pp 77–120. Available online: [accessed January 2012].
  33. Noss, A. (1997). The Economic Importance of Communal Net Hunting Among the BaAka of the Central African Republic. Human Ecology 25: 71–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Petros, G. (1994). The Karo of the lower Omo valley. Subsistence, social organization, and relations with neighbouring groups. M.A. Thesis, Addis Ababa University.Google Scholar
  35. Ridgeway, R. (1998). The Shadow of Kilimanjaro. On Foot Across East Africa. Bloomsbury, London.Google Scholar
  36. Robinson, J. G., and Bennett, E. L. (eds.) (2000). Hunting for Sustainability in Tropical Forests. Columbia University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  37. Scruton, R. (2010). The sacred pursuit—reflections on the literature of hunting. In Kowalsky, N. (ed.), Hunting—Philosophy for Everyone: In Search of the Wild Life. Blackwell, Chichester, pp. 187–197.Google Scholar
  38. Strecker, I. (1976). Traditional life and prospects for socio-economic development in the Hamar administrative district of southern Gamu Gofa. Report for the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission. Addis Ababa. Available online: [accessed January 2012].
  39. Turton, D. (1973). The social organization of the Mursi: a pastoral tribe of the Lower Omo Valley, south West Ethiopia. PhD Thesis, University of London. Available online: [accessed October 2011].
  40. Turton, D. (1981). Exploration in the lower Omo Valley of southwestern Ethiopia between 1890 and 1910. Revised version of a paper first published in Maria Caravaglios (ed.), L’Africa ai Tempi di Daniele Comboni, Atti del Congresso Internazionale di Studi Africani, Istituto Italo-Africano e Missionari Comboniani, Rome, 19–21 November, 1981. Available online: [accessed September 2010].
  41. Turton, D. (1987). The Mursi and National Park development in the Lower Omo Valley. In Anderson, D., and Grove, G. (eds.), Conservation in Africa—People, Policies and Practice. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 169–186.Google Scholar
  42. Turton, D. (2002). The Mursi and the elephant question. In Chatty, D., and Colchester, M. (eds.), Conservation and Mobile Indigenous Peoples: Displacement, Forced Settlement and Development. Berghahn Books, New York, pp. 97–118.Google Scholar
  43. Waylen, K. A., Fischer, A., Gowan, P., and Milner-Gulland, E. J. (2012). Interactions Between a Collectivist Culture and Buddhist Teachings Influence Environmental Concerns and Behaviors in the Republic of Kalmykia, Russia. Society and Natural Resources 25: 1118–1133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Wolde Gossa, T. (1999). Warfare and fertility: A study of the Hor (Arbore) of southern Ethiopia. PhD Thesis, University of London.Google Scholar
  45. Wolde-Meskel, M. (1970). Zikre-Neger, 2nd ed. Artistic Printing Press, Addis Ababa (in Amharic).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Frankfurt Zoological SocietyAddis AbabaEthiopia
  2. 2.Social, Economic and Geographical Sciences GroupThe James Hutton InstituteAberdeenUK

Personalised recommendations