Manitoba is sounding the alarm against wild boars

Opinion



THE governments of Saskatchewan and Alberta have taken action over the past month to keep feral pigs out. It is up to Manitoba to do the same.

Wild boar are causing big damage in Manitoba, wild pig expert Ryan Brook said at Manitoba Pork’s annual meeting on April 8. He called them “the most successful large invasive mammal on the planet”.

“There are no predators, they’re incredibly aggressive, they’ll eat just about anything, and they’ll keep going year-round,” said Brooks, a professor of animal science at the University of Saskatchewan.

Such porcine claims might seem exaggerated to Manitobans who have never personally encountered a wild pig. Some skeptics may think that reported sightings should be given the same credibility as reports of mythical creatures such as Sasquatch and unicorns.

Brook is aware of the disbelief. He said one of his biggest challenges is simply convincing people that wild pigs exist.

One reason the creatures are rarely spotted compared to common wildlife like deer is that wild pigs evolved to avoid humans. They are intelligent and elusive. They hide in wooded areas. When humans are nearby, they can become nocturnal.

Unfortunately, the evidence for their existence is undisputed. The Canadian Wild Pig Research Project has recorded more than 60,000 sightings across the country, including more than 1,000 photographs of stealthy creatures in Manitoba, mostly in northern Interlake and Parkland, with several hundred in the Spruce Woods area.

Besides the photos, the presence of wild pigs is confirmed by the ecological destruction. The powerful beasts – they weigh up to 100 kilograms – tear up forest floors, destroy crops and plow wetlands and meadows. They eat almost anything, including rodents, birds, eggs, deer, livestock, and pets. There are also concerns that feral pigs could endanger Manitoba’s pork industry by spreading diseases like African swine fever.

Such problems were unforeseen when Canadian farmers first imported wild boar from Europe in the late 1980s. Some escaped through inadequate fencing, others were released when the market for the wild boar meat was not as profitable as hoped.

It was initially thought that, when free in the wild, the alien breed would not survive Canada’s freezing climate, but they adapted to winter, heaping the cattails into burrows called “pigloos”.

They breed quickly, become sexually mature at six months, and have two litters a year of four to six piglets. They stay in small herds called sounders and can travel up to 25 kilometers in a day.

When humans discuss possible solutions to the problem of feral pigs, the conversation inevitably begins with one proposition: shoot them. The reasoning is that hunters are eager to set their sights on game that tastes delicious when roasted.

It’s not that easy, however. Manitoba tried hiring hunters when escaped boars became a problem about 25 years ago, but that method hasn’t stemmed the burgeoning population. In fact, sport hunting has made the situation worse. Unless Hunters kill an entire Sonder, the remaining Hogs will scatter and become even more elusive, starting new Sonars in new terrain and becoming more active at night to avoid Hunters.

In January, Manitoba created an agency called the Invasive Swine Eradication Project. It would be good to examine the tactics employed in other jurisdictions.

Alberta has launched a Squeal on Pigs campaign that urges residents to report sightings. It also launched a pilot project on April 1 that pays government-licensed trappers $75 per set of wild pig ears, with trappers encouraged to cull whole sounders.

Last month, Saskatchewan announced new measures to encourage public reporting, increase enforcement efforts and place a moratorium on new wild boar farms.

If Manitoba needs more incentives, one new development is particularly alarming. Researchers believe Manitoba’s feral pigs will soon enter Riding Mountain National Park if left unchecked.

Maybe that’s where Manitoba should draw the line. Like a military force defending its territory, Manitoba can take up position on the borders of Riding Mountain. Keep the feral hogs out of this wild gem by any means necessary knowing that potential infiltration can only be stopped at an early stage.

As wild pig expert Brook warned, “Once you have established wild pigs, be prepared to live with them. They are there forever.

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Carl DeGurse is a member of the editorial board of Free Press.

Carl DeGurse

Carl DeGurse
Senior Editor

Carl DeGurse’s role at the Free Press is a matter of opinion. Lots of reviews.

Helen L. Cuellar