Gamekeepers have invited the First Minister to visit their estates to find out about mountain hare management after she warned filmed culls were “not acceptable”.
Nicola Sturgeon said she was “angry” at footage filmed by animal rights charities which showed the animals being killed on shooting estates.
She warned large-scale mass culls could put the conservation status of the species at risk and said legislation to protect the hares is among options being considered by government.
Currently, landowners operate a voluntary restraint agreement regarding numbers culled.
Now, gamekeepers shown in the footage have written to the First Minister and Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham to invite them to their estates to learn more about the rationale behind the killings.
Head gamekeeper for the Clune and Corrybrough Estates in Inverness-shire, Duncan MacKenzie, said: “We’d really like to be able to show the First Minister around rather than discuss these issues in Edinburgh.
“I think it would be beneficial for everyone to get an understanding of why the hares need to be managed, here.”
He said the footage filmed by OneKind, League Against Cruel Sports and Lush showed “working people being secretly filmed carrying out a legal management activity which is no different to other forms of species management and is well within the laws passed by Scottish Government”.
“The ironic thing is that those who are seeking the end of grouse management would also be signalling the beginning of the end for the mountain hare in Scotland, ” he added.
“Populations are thriving on grouse moors but are struggling badly elsewhere due to predation and loss of their preferred heather habitat and we hope to have the opportunity to explain this in full to the First Minister.”
Mr MacKenzie said the estates are not hiding anything, adding: “We have good records of the amount of hares in comparison to the amount we have taken off the hill, covering a number of years, and there are still high numbers of hares on the ground.”
The animal rights charities behind the footage claim it shows the agreement for voluntary restraint over culls has “failed” and along with broadcaster Chris Packham are calling for a cull ban until a review on the issue concludes.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government has already made clear that it wishes to hold urgent meetings with stakeholders to discuss this important issue.
“The large-scale culling of Scotland’s iconic mountain hares has the potential to put the conservation status of the species at risk.”
In a joint statement OneKind and the League Against Cruel Sports Scotland said: “We commend the gamekeepers for being open and transparent about their activities relating to hare culling, however the facts remain the same. Killing mountain hares on this scale is unacceptable, based on no scientific evidence, and completely unnecessary.
“Let’s be frank, this appears to be about maintaining rich supplies of game stock for commercial shooting and nothing else.
“We’re glad the First Minister will be shown this shocking activity first hand, courtesy of the gamekeepers.”