A comparison of perceptions of Estonian and Latvian hunters with regard to the control of African swine fever
Since the first detected African swine fever (ASF) cases in Lithuanian wild boar in 2014, the virus has occurred in many other member states of the European Union (EU), most recently in Belgium in 2018 and in Germany in 2020. Passive surveillance and various control measures are implemented as part of the strategy to stop disease spread in the wild boar population. Within this framework, hunters perform important activities, such as the removal of carcasses, fencing or hunting. Therefore, the successful implementation of these measures largely depends on their acceptability by hunters. Methods of participatory epidemiology can be used to determine the acceptance of control measures. The use of participatory methods allows the involvement of key stakeholders in the design, the implementation and the analysis of control and surveillance activities. In the present study, two studies that had been conducted using participatory epidemiology with hunters in Estonia and Latvia were compared on the topics recruitment, participants, facilitators, focus group discussion (FGDs) and their contents. The aim was to evaluate similarities and differences in the two studies and to identify a broader spectrum of possibilities to increase the willingness of hunters supporting the fight against ASF. Evaluating all conducted FGDs in both countries showed primarily similarities in the perceptions and opinions of the hunters in Estonia and Latvia. One notable difference was that passive surveillance in Latvia was perceived mostly as topic of duty and ethics rather than an issue driven by incentives. Participatory methods have proven to be an effective tool in the evaluation of the acceptance of established ASF control systems. The results of this study point out further chances for improving the cooperation with hunters in the future. Nevertheless, the importance of gathering and analyzing the opinions of hunters in all ASF affected countries individually is highlighted.