Manitoba sounding the feral-boar alarm


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THE governments of Saskatchewan and Alberta have in the past month taken steps to stop wild pigs from running rampant. It’s incumbent on Manitoba to do as much.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/04/2022 (350 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

THE governments of Saskatchewan and Alberta have in the past month taken steps to stop wild pigs from running rampant. It’s incumbent on Manitoba to do as much.

The feral boars are causing great damage in Manitoba, the Manitoba Pork annual meeting on April 8 was told by wild-pig expert Ryan Brook. He called them “the single most successful invasive large mammal on the planet.”

“There are no predators, they are insanely aggressive, they eat just about anything and they keep going all year,” said Brooks, a University of Saskatchewan animal science professor.

Such porcine pronouncements might seem exaggerated to Manitobans who have never personally encountered a wild pig. Perhaps some skeptics believe reported sightings should be accorded 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 just convincing people wild pigs exist.

A reason the creatures are seldom spotted when compared with commonly-seen wildlife such as deer is that wild pigs have evolved to avoid humans. They’re smart and elusive. They hide in wooded areas. When humans are nearby, they can become nocturnal.

Unfortunately, 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 the stealthy creatures in Manitoba, mainly in the northern Interlake and Parkland, with many hundreds in the Spruce Woods area.

Other than photos, the presence of wild pigs is confirmed by ecological destruction. The powerful beasts — they weigh up to 100 kilograms — tear up the forest floors, destroy crops and plow through wetlands and grasslands. They eat almost anything, including rodents, birds, eggs, deer, livestock and family pets. There is also fear wild pigs could endanger Manitoba’s pork industry by spreading diseases such as African swine fever.

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

It was initially thought that, when free in the wilds, the foreign breed would not survive Canada’s frigid weather, but they adapted to winter, heaping cattails into burrows called “pigloos.”

They reproduce quickly, becoming sexually mature at six months and have two litters per year of four to six piglets. They stay in small herds called sounders, and can move up to 25 kilometres in a day.

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

It’s not so easy, though. Manitoba tried hiring hunters when the escaped boars first became a problem about 25 years ago, but this method didn’t stem the burgeoning population. In fact, sport hunting made it worse. Unless hunters kill an entire sounder, the remaining pigs will disperse and become even more elusive, starting new sounders 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 do well to consider tactics employed in other jurisdictions.

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

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

If Manitoba needs more incentive, a new development is particularly alarming. Researchers believe Manitoba’s wild pigs will, if unchecked, soon enter Riding Mountain National Park.

Perhaps this is where Manitoba should draw the line. Like a military force defending its territory, Manitoba can take its stand at the boundaries of Riding Mountain. Keep the feral swine out of this wilderness gem by whatever means necessary, knowing the potential infiltration can only be stopped at an early stage.

As Brook, the wild-pig expert, warned: “Once you have firmly established wild pigs, get ready to live with them. They are there forever.”

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

Carl DeGurse

Carl DeGurse
Senior copy editor

Carl DeGurse’s role at the Free Press is a matter of opinion. A lot of opinions.

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