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A boaring threat to our meat production

The growing population of wild boar on the prairies threatens livestock production


People who say they have never seen wild boar should watch the ditches at dusk from Florida to Dawson Creek. I have seen them at both locations and many places in between, and more than once avoided a disastrous collision with a wild boar.

Wild boar, wild swine, Sas scrofa, Eurasian wild pig or just plain wild pig are becoming an established and destructive introduced species on the Canadian Prairies.

Wild boars were first introduced on some Alberta and Saskatchewan farms in the 1980s for exotic meat production. Why people chose to chew on stringy, gamey wild meats when domesticated pig varieties are descended from these wild boars is an enigma. There is no accounting for taste.

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Unfortunately, wild boars either broke loose from meat farms or were released to the wild. Now these wild feral pigs, some crossed with domestic pigs, are widespread across Alberta and Saskatchewan and as far east as Manitoba and Ontario. Rumour has it that some individuals deliberately helped the boar escape, to have a wild population to hunt.

Wild boar, sows included, can weigh from 200 to 400 pounds. Unlike deer, moose or domestic animals that have one or two offspring a year, wild pigs can have two litters of six to 10 piglets a year. Wild boar generally breed from November to January with a gestation period of around four months. Sows can breed at one or two years of age and live for up to 15 years. In 10 years of breeding, one sow can produce up to 200 piglets. They breed more like rabbits or rats than other domestic animals.

Wild boars are social animals and normally travel in family groups or “sounders.” In cold winter months, wild boar groups build shelters lined with spruce branches and hay in dense brush and especially in snow-covered brush and ditches. They wander all year, feeding on cereal and oilseed crops, grass pastures, tree roots, berries, leaves, bark, rodents, frogs and carrion. Boars have been known to kill poultry, wildfowl and even fish. They can break into grain storage areas and grain bags, and will loot gardens for potatoes, carrots and anything edible.

Clearing the boar

In Saskatchewan, no season or licence is required to shoot boar. The same applies to Manitoba, but kills must be reported to Manitoba Food and Rural Development.

In Alberta only landowners are permitted to destroy feral wild boar with kills reported to Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development. From 2018 to 2015 Alberta had a $50 bounty on wild boar. Some 1,000 kills were recorded, but the program was discontinued, as killing individual boars caused the group to break up and scatter. Research is underway to trap family groups rather than shoot at and disperse them.

In Europe, wolves are the only effective biocontrol for destructive boars. In Italy, a wolf can kill 60 piglets and sub-adults annually.

The elephant in the house on wild boar is not their crop destruction but the disease they could carry to other farm animals, including domestic pigs. Wild boars can carry many porcine diseases including foot and mouth and, worst of all, African swine fever. African Swine Fever is presently sweeping through China. Experts estimate that 300 to 350 million pigs will be lost to this disease in China — a quarter of the world’s pork supply.

African swine fever (ASF) is not the same as swine flu, which is infectious to humans. ASF is harmless to humans but can be spread via contaminated pork products or on the clothes of people working with infected pigs. The disease is not airborne but it’s hard to eradicate. Outbreaks in Canada and the U.S. would be disastrous to the pork industry.

Canadian hog producers better wake up and smell the coffee. We need to greatly reduce the wild boar population. There is a need to either restrict boar meat production or ensure that containment procedures are so stringent that boars will never escape. Alberta is rat free and forbids public ownership of rats of any kind. Wild pig control programs should be a high priority. Round them up or wipe them out before its too late.

About the author

Contributor

Dr. Ieuan Evans is a forensic plant pathologist based in Edmonton, Alta. He can be reached at [email protected]

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