How To Count

A short extract from my thesis on Hunting in Northern Cyprus, pages 155-162. Whilst I talk here about counting hunters and hunting, the same approach to critical and analytical thinking used below can be used when counting populations of anything or anyone from potatoes to dragonflies, from patients to priests.

I was sitting opposite Hasan, TRNC Under-Secretary of the Interior and a previous president of the TRNC Hunting Federation; Avfed. A congenial person, he was sitting across from me at a large desk in an air-conditioned office. Dressed in a suit, as is the norm for political bureaucrats of the TRNC, he told me he was here to help with anything I wanted to know from the perspective of the government on hunting. Upon each question I asked, he would dictate to his secretary to fetch this document or that person to get another file, to share excerpts from them with me. When I asked him how many hunters there were in Northern Cyprus he replied: “…about 25,000.” I had also read and heard the same answer from multiple sources, whether from people who did or did not hunt.

A while later, during this first conversation, Hasan was reading out to me and explaining the list of statistics on hunting that the TRNC government had collected and that he had access to. One of these statistics was that the Interior Ministry, for which he was the Under-Secretary, had issued 11,471 hunting licenses the previous year, in 2014. I asked: “…but what about the 25,000 figure you mentioned earlier?” It turned out, upon further conversation and investigation, that the ‘25,000’ value was a statistically combined value from a survey that had been done recently. Specifically, it was technically an estimate of the number of people who identified in some way with hunting. In the sense that, they had hunted during their life-time and may do so again in the foreseeable future. A few weeks later, as I was trawling through the records of the Hunting Federation, I noticed that they had had just over 5000 members the previous year, far less than the 11,471 or 25,000 people they claimed to represent as the official voice and management of hunting.

As I compared these different numbers I reflected on the many conversations I had been having so far, with different acquaintances and informants in Northern Cyprus. Amongst these conversations it had been noted to me numerous times that: “…there is a hunter in every family” in Northern Cyprus. This had given me an initially inflated impression of the number of people who hunted. Having reflected on this further I know that what constitutes a family in Northern Cyprus is far more extended than the nominally conceived nuclear family, whereas how I think about families and how families are treated in a census are as nuclear. For example, it is common for people in Northern Cyprus to be able to name and know their second cousins, whereas I barely know some of my cousins and have not even met some of them, let alone have any idea who my second cousins are.

Another dimension regarding how many people hunt in Northern Cyprus, is that people who hunt move in and out of Northern Cyprus. As aforementioned, Northern Cyprus has two large diasporas. I observed people who did not live in Northern Cyprus, but in London, come back to hunt. How many and whether these are captured in the aforementioned hunting survey or the national census, is unknown in the former and contested in the later. I also came across a number of Turkish Cypriots who went hunting abroad, primarily in England, Bulgaria and Turkey. Based on the 2011 hunting survey this was estimated at 8% of people who identified as hunters. In short, all these observations made me realise that asking: How many hunters are there in Northern Cyprus? was not a straight forward question.

In considering this question, I had started to generate multiple different answers. None of which were ‘objectively’ wrong. Whenever I had received a number (not the answer of their being a hunter in every family), I had received the largest figure of “around 25,000.” Based on my experience of the discursive context in which this figure was given it became apparent that this high figure was promoted by both officials of the Hunting Federation as well as those opposed to it. In the case of officials representing the Hunting Federation, the bigger the stake-holder group they could lay claim to representing, the more power they had. This was because it emphasised both the normalcy of hunting to the general public as well as the size of the hunting citizenry as a voting bloc to politicians. Similarly, for those who took issue with hunting, the more hunters ‘there are’ that they could point to, the more they could implicate them as having a big impact.

Even this being the case, my reflections on all the answers I received left me noting that they were all true, but dependent on the situation they were given in. Fundamentally any attempt at a statistical snapshot that does not incorporate the context of each statistic is unmoored from the reality that people produce them in. For me to wonder how many hunters there ‘objectively’ are in Northern Cyprus was in some sense absurd.

This is not confined to Northern Cyprus. I also asked myself the question: How many hunters are there in Europe? Putting aside the complicated question of what constitutes Europe, the only numbers I could find were the numbers of people who were members of hunting federations’ for each country in Europe, affiliated with FACE (The European Federation of Associations for Hunting and Conservation of the EU) (2011). I used these alongside publicly available censuses of each countries total population on the one hand (blue) and land size on the other (yellow) to produce the Figure below. I also then calculated that approximately 1 in every 70 people in the European region covered by FACE, was a registered member of a hunting organisation. However, if I were to include the number of people who identify with hunting, as well as unregistered hunters, illegal hunters, non-annual hunters, fish hunters etc. (What about people who cull, people who butcher ‘farmed-wild’ animals, people who kill pests etc.) this tally would be much higher.

All things considered 1 in every 70 people in Europe being a registered hunter is still much higher than I expected. If we compare this to Northern Cyprus though, it is low. Where if we go with the 25,000 figure, 1 in every 13 people is a hunter. But again, that is 1 in 13 of a static idea of Northern Cyprus’s population, not in 1 in 13 of how many people are actually in Northern Cyprus.

Figure – Density of hunters by area (yellow); Density of hunters by population (blue)

While this is the first map of its kind it does not take into consideration the different roles within this hunting population either. Not all of them actually pull the trigger or even actively chase the prey in a hunt. For example, in parts of the UK many of the membership are ‘beaters’ and do not shoot or kill an animal directly. Hence, in this case it depends on one’s own positionality as to whether you decide they are inside or outside the category of people who hunt. The same goes for whether you the reader consider, as you read the coming chapters, whether I have hunted or not.

From yet a further perspective, hunting and hunters are also not locally bounded. Take for example the hunting of large predators. People living in Europe fly to numerous African and Asian countries to hunt large predators there, but this hunting and these hunters are not included in estimates of hunting in Europe. I found an advertisement in a Turkish Cypriot newspaper as far back as 1971, related to going hunting in Kenya. This reflects a wider global ecological phenomenon outlined by Hornborg, whereby environmental resource use, resource users, resource preparation, resources and sources of resources are globally outsourced from each other (2017).

Table – Combined National Census and Surveyed Values of Hunting Population Sub-groups in 2011

It is not simply a case that statistics and numbers quoted are biased by people having different ‘axes-to-grind’. Instead, it is also that any question is inherently limited whether geo-centrically or otherwise. Furthermore, stating a number as a percentage is to have conducted statistical work on an already statistically up-scaled number, which may also in many cases not have been put through rigorous testing for statistical significance (Baker 2016).

There are rarely any numbers that are full objective counts and even if they were, they are temporally contextual as well as their delineations being perspective dependent. At best a demographic statistic or a census, cannot objectively capture a population but simply give a close estimate1. However, even ignoring all that, any number given, is given. It is not a decontextualized symbol representing reality, even if it is rationalised as such, but is part of a relationship. It is inherently a composite of time, place and the positionality of the person or organisation giving it, the context they are giving it in and who is asking for it. The number of factors influencing any given situation means that it requires a fluency of the context to even be aware of how different factors are affecting a statistical estimate. This is what I have attempted to bring together in this chapter. Otherwise all that would be left is ‘axe-grinding’.

Whilst ‘25,000’ is approximately how many hunters there are, this includes both people who angled and used a spear-gun to fish as a hobby, as these activities themselves are not mutually exclusive from terrestrial hunting in Northern Cyprus, as many hunters conduct both. One might argue that the actual number of people hunting per year is best reflected in the number of licenses given, however there will be people hunting without one. Furthermore, of those with a license, not all will be attending all the days available to them to hunt (as reflected in the Table 3 ‘Hunt +50% of Big Hunting Season’)and nor will they be taking out a license and hunting every year (as is reflected in the Table 3 ‘Hunted Consistently Over Recent Years & Often’).

In addition, there are those who registered for a separate competition and club license, which means they may or may not go hunting. However, they are members of the Hunting Federation, allowing them to have a say in hunting management affairs and compete in organised competitions and thus be part of the ‘hunting electorate’ but not necessarily hunt. Illegal hunters and trappers are also not specified. Suffice to note this is yet another dimension.

n summary, consideration of hunting and people who hunt needs to take into account that neither is quantitatively uniform. This means at best one could say that there is a nested spectrum of people, from those who hunt as much as is legally possible; 1% of total population (Table above), to those who still consider themselves hunters but rarely, if at all, go hunting; 46% of people who identify as hunters (Table above). However, even this perspective is limited as people move between these categories, removing the possibility of discrete categories of people who sit at discrete points along a spectrum. Additionally, hunting is intersecting multiple other activities including illegal trapping and fishing that reveal additional spectrum along which people might be considered. On top of which Turkish Cypriot hunters intersect and are intersected by other hunters and places. Finally, the very categories are natively contested or changing. For example, the divide between the concept of hobby fish hunting and professional fishing has been increasing over the past two decades.

i.e. The real research was in studying how the labels given to things are sites of ‘category’ struggle. Hunting itself being a historical concept concealing some of the deepest mythologies that modernity is built.

This approach outlined here is important but it is now two phases behind where my current analysis is at. For ease of memory this is part of the phase classically called ‘the map is not the terrain’ or ‘this is not a pipe’. The next phase derives from critical realism and the concept of epistemic fallacies. I am working on an upgraded phase to that yet to be named.