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Feral pigs - not really wild boar

"Homeowners want them off their street. Animal rights activists want them relocated in a humane way. Hunters prefer the status quo, while politicians just want the problem to go away. " Bernhard Warner - The Guardian

It's a while since I've done a post on our feral animals here in Australia, but for some reason today I thought about wild boar so here we go.

On restaurant menus in France you will often see 'sanglier' - or wild boar - often in a stew - or 'civet'. I have had it and it is fairly strong, rich and gamey and generally pretty dark in colour I suppose, but good nevertheless. So when I started on this I thought that surely some enterprising person - probably up north somewhere - has started farming our feral pigs. For here in Australia we have feral pigs, not wild boar.

Wild boar are a Eurasian thing. I don't think they are native to the Americas either, although they certainly have at least feral pigs - often called boar or hogs. Boar have always been a wild animal - they are not a domesticated pig gone wild. There are similarities - the coarse hair, the long tusks, the big shoulders, but I think, on the whole the Eurasian boar is larger than our feral pigs, although looking at some of the pictures I found, I'm not so sure. Although you would have to wonder. After all domesticated pigs came from wild boar, if feral pigs go wild they start to look like boar, so surely they are just reverting to their original state?

The first pigs to be put in the wild here - yes deliberately put into the wild - even when there were no colonial settlements - was in 1777 - when Captain Cook released a pair of pigs on Bruny Island. Apparently in those days it was thought to be a good thing to release your own native animals into new relatively uninhabited places. I have no idea what the reasoning behind that was, but it was done. Anyway, of course, with the First Fleet came pigs. And some of them escaped, and now feral pigs are the largest feral animal problem in Australia - there are some 24 million of them - as many as there are people just about. One each.

They now roam over 40% of Australia's surface from Tasmania to the top end and even over to WA, although the concentration is indeed greater the further north you go. They love large drainage areas and swampy wetlands you see. So I don't think there are any in the desert. That's the camel's realm.

They do enormous damage to the land, destroying whole ecosystems (and farmer's crops) because they trample, and roll in the mud and root up - literally roots and all - any plant. For pigs will eat virtually anything, and that includes the farmers' sheep right down to worms, and encompassing a number of endangered species. And if that was not enough they are also carriers of disease:

"Boars carry a host of diseases, including tuberculosis, hepatitis E and influenza A, that can make the jump to humans." Bernhard Warner - The Guardian

He is indeed talking about boar rather than feral pigs, but I'm guessing the same holds for our feral pigs. They also host parasites which can make the jump. Which I think is why you won't see wild pig on the menu at your local restaurant, even though the meat is usually lean. Too much danger from disease and parasites. That said, it is entirely possible that hunters do eat their catch, but I guess that's up to them to decide. Restaurants, I'm sure could not serve any wild pig, that hadn't been certified as safe to eat somehow. And, there seems to be no system in place to do this.

As far as I can see, in spite of there being an offical plan to decrease their numbers not many inroads are being made. Scientists are doing their bit as well as hunters, by trying to restrict their ability to reproduce, if not eliminate it altogether, because apparently they reproduce at around the same rate as rabbits. Now that is alarming. And of course all of those traits are what made them such a prime animal for domestication in the first place. Cheap to maintain.

In the rest of the world there is also the huge problem of African swine fever. Not with respect to our feral pig problem - so far. It is utterly devastating, highly infectious and almost 100% lethal. So a good way to get rid of them? Well no, because it can affect domesticated pigs too, and this is indeed becoming an increasing problem world wide. So the pig farmers are up in arms as well as everybody else. Not here in Australia so far, although it is coming closer. One report I read mentioned that it was in a near neighbour's country, but didn't specify where - Papua New Guinea?, Indonesia? Maybe if it does eventually land here, there will be rather more urgent action.

I found a very long article in The Guardian about wild boar in Europe, centred mostly on the problem of wild boar in European towns, by Bernhard Warner - Boar wars: how wild hogs are trashing European cities. Although much of it is not really relevant here, there was also a lot of information about the species, and its history, and it is perhaps a foretaste of what could happen here.

This is a street in Rome - well a suburb. Apparently this kind of thing is a common sight. With increasing urbanisation the pigs are being forced out of their country habitats in a search for food and this leads them to the towns, where there is garbage galore that can be foraged. They also trail people in supermarket car parks and to their homes, and have also been known to attack people, even very occasionally kill them. It's a bit like the bears in Vancouver. Maybe when this sort of thing starts to happen here something will be done. Barcelona and Rome were singled out in the article but I gather it's much more widespread than that.

There's something almost noble about the hunting of the wild boar. Well not noble really I suppose, but at least it's an ancient tradition and, of course, mostly done by noblemen - back then.

This kind of hunting was done with the help of specially trained boar hounds - nowadays they just use guns. And people still do it. La chasse is a big thing in France - and most of Europe. The UK actually eliminated wild boar back in the eighteenth century, but alas they have been reintroduced - first to wild boar farms - probably to feed we gourmets - and some escaped. I did not know, but pigs can escape very easily. It is a really difficult job to keep them in - well one French house we rented had an electric fence around the swimming pool to stop them falling in. The point is though that you have to take special precautions because:

“Wild pigs can run up to 30 mph. They can jump over fences less than 3ft high and have ‘climbed’ out of pig traps with walls 5 to 6ft high" Billy Higginbotham - Wildlife conservation expert Texas

When domesticated pigs escape into the wild, over time they revert to looking much more like their cousin the wild boar - the hair, the heavy shoulders, the long tusks - and the ferocity. I wonder if you domesticate wild boar - as they seem to have done in Europe - they go the other way. I suppose they must do, because, of course, the original domesticated pigs, were just that - wild pigs that were domesticated. Such an intelligent animal too. This is a feral pig. Looks pretty big to me, although no long tusks.

So many problems for the world to solve.


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