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OUTDOORS: Wild pigs are a threat to our natural environment

While fictionalized pigs are cute, real live wild pigs could be an 'ecological disaster about to sweep across southern Ontario farmlands,' warns columnist
Pot-bellied Pig_Carden Alvar_M Irwin photo (2)
This pot-bellied pig was spotted in the Carden Alvar.

Just because you’ve got the garden harvested, the snow tires on and the storm windows in place, you may think that you have nothing to worry about. Well, guess again… you need to be anxious about pigs.

Yes, pigs, those cute characters which tend to populate children’s books and movies are an impending threat to Ontario. So much so that as of Jan.1, 2022 you will no longer be allowed to take your pig into a Provincial Park or a Conservation Reserve, or let your pigs go free in the great outdoors. It’s a new law coming and it does not seem to matter whether or not they are wearing a mask. No pigs. Period.

As for farmers who raise pigs, I don’t think too many of them actually vacation with their livestock, so should be little harm done there. Nor are they in the business of releasing them to the wild (darn poor return on the investment).

So why have Porky Pig, Miss Piggy, Wilbur, Arnold Ziffel, Babe, Piglet, Hamm, Pumba and those three little whiskered engineers been targeted in such a heavy-handed manner? Well, truth is, it’s not the fictionalized ones who are to blame, it’s the real live wild pigs that are the ecological disaster about to sweep across southern Ontario farmlands.

Wild pigs, also called wild boar, have begun to make their presence known in Ontario, the latest report being of 14 pigs on the lam near Pickering. Due to their wallowing and rooting, damage to the natural environment can be significant. In the U.S. the damage to agricultural crops is around $2 billion a year and increasing.

As one biologist stated, “Wherever you find white-tailed deer you could find wild pigs.” So where did they come from and how do we get rid of them?

Back in the early 1980s Agriculture Canada began allowing the farming of European Boar, both as a meat source and a controlled hunting experience. And like any type of livestock, it’s only a matter of time until a few escape. Which they did in Saskatchewan and Alberta. These provinces are now breaking open the piggy bank to get rid of the wild ones.

Like any invasive species, it pays to study them to find their weaknesses. Pigs can live for 25 years, and reach a weight of human adult and more.

They have razor-sharp tusks for ripping through roots and have a fondness for corn and wheat crops. A group of pigs is called a sounder, and sounders are comprised of females (sisters, mom, grandmother, great-grandmother and so on).

Male pigs (boars) tend to be solitary, yet roam vast areas in search of females. Young pigs become sexually mature at six months, and can have two litters a year with about 10 piglets per litter. A sounder may contain 10 to 60 animals.

These wild pigs are very secretive, often coming out only after dark to plow through the local fields. A video from Texas shows wallow holes several feet deep across large fields; seems they like to make tractor traps!

Another challenge with pig management is that they are smart. And adaptable. Therein lies a problem with us humans who like to think that shooting an animal on sight will help solve the problem. That technique actually makes things a whole lot worse.

If a sounder is fired upon, the shooter may indeed eliminate one or two from the group. As one biologists has noted, “If the sounder has 12 animals and shoot 10, the effort is a failure.” The reason for this is that any survivors quickly learn what areas to avoid, what times are bad times to show your snout, and if the neighbourhood has fallen apart… scatter and run!

Anybody remember playing with a drop of mercury as a kid? One blob but if touched it breaks into many bloblets. And each bloblet, when touched, breaks into several more smaller bloblets. Same thing with pigs. (And you wondered when that experience of playing with a broken thermometer would ever pay off?)

The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters is against hunting them, as they know that individual kills will only lead to a scattering of survivors over a lager area. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests (MNRF) is also very much against any hunting pressure allowed to these animals. Unless the entire sounder can be eliminated (perhaps through massive live-trap enclosures?) then any pressure put on the pigs will only make the situation worse.

I thought that I had encountered a wild boar a few years ago out Carden way. A photographer showed me pictures he had taken (attached to this article) and I raised the alarm with the MNRF, who did a very quick response. Close examination of the pictures revealed the beast to be a farm-raised Pot-bellied pig, not a wild European Boar. It was rounded up and shooed on home.

While my identification may not have been 100%, every sighting of a pig outside a fenced area is now reason for alarm. Domestic pigs, pet pot-bellied pigs or European boar…. All are capable of becoming feral and producing a race of super-pigs that tear apart habitat faster than a beaver can dam a stream.

I encourage you to check out a few websites and become familiar with the challenge. Should you see such a beastie, take a picture, note the location and contact an email at wildpigs@ontario.ca.

As with any invasive species, we have to hit it early and hit it hard… other wise we will be up to our collective pork chops in wild pig damages.