Swine Invasion- British Style
April 27, 2015
Much has been written and said about the invasion of wild hogs across the U.S. It’s a point of contention, but also of serious concern because the animals are prolific, wide-ranging, and non-native. Not only are they a potential threat to agriculture, they’re living (and well) in an environment that did not evolve with them. While that may prove not to be quite the catastrophe that some would have us believe, it’s certainly something to keep an eye on.
Insulated as many of us are in America, we don’t often think much about wild boar in other places. Sure, a handful of hunters may daydream of a driven hunt in Hungary, or a day afield with the Jaegermeister for big, German boar, but what about places like, say, England?
Wild boar were indigenous to Great Britain, and lived in the “wild” until somewhere around the 13th or 14th century, at which point they appear to have been wiped out. Before that, however, they must have had a pretty good run. It’s interesting (to me at least) that if you take a look at medieval literature, heraldry, and even place names, the wild boar had a pretty prominent position throughout parts of Britain, often inspiring awe and terror. Boar hunting was often depicted as a feat of courage, and occasionally, the root of tragedy.
Efforts to restore the wild boar were stymied over the centuries, as the people generally saw the animals as agricultural pests and quickly destroyed them. Wealthy nobles, and even kings (James 1 and Charles 1, notably) imported boar from France to try to reestablish wild swine, but the good farmers and villagers were apparently not having it. By the 1970s, wild boar in England were considered dangerous animals, and restricted to specially permitted zoological parks. Certain farmers have also imported animals from Europe to raise in captivity, again, under strict regulation and controls.
Still, around 1998, at least two herds of wild boar had “mysteriously” reestablished themselves in parts of Britain, and those herds have continued to grow and prosper, despite efforts to hunt and manage them. In the Forest of Dean, the animals have become a point of serious contention, as agricultural interests (as well as concerned citizens) call for a cull and management, while some environmentalists and animal rights factions call for them to be allowed to return to their native habitat and live their lives in “peace.”
I think it’s an interesting parallel to the situation with feral hogs in the US, and I’m betting there are lessons there for agricultural and wildlife management experts on this side of The Pond… if anyone will take the time to study them. Of particular interest to me, a confessed layman when it comes to wildlife biology and ecology, is the arguments in Britain that suggest the wild boar should be permitted to roam free, as they provide a benefit to the ecosystem. I certainly recognize the potential differences between a native species restored to its habitat and a non-native, but the layman in me struggles with how activities such as rooting to aerate and mix soil nutrients can be beneficial in one woodland, and detrimental in another (especially considering the broad distribution across the Old World in widely diversified habitats).
One aspect of the return of wild boar to Britain that correlates perfectly with the feral hogs in the U.S. is the terror these animals appear to invoke amongst the largely urbanized and domesticated human population. Every week, my news feeds bring me at least one more article depicting a “horrifying” encounter between people and hogs in the English countryside. “Attacks” are documented, almost always involving a dog, innocently strolling down the path with its people, drawing the “unwarranted” ire of a wild boar. This is great for the sensationalist media, of course, but what sort of representation of reality is it? I can’t help thinking of the glowing, red eyes of the “demon boar” on a Discovery Channel special… and the terrified testimony of suburbanites whose children were “threatened” by these deadly beasts. Who will save the children?
Of course, wild boar can be dangerous, and far be it from me to unwittingly pooh-pooh the concerns of the citizens in a place I’ve never visited. I do know that, along with my feeds about the English hogs, I receive regular reports from India, Pakistan, and Malaysia about unprovoked, wild boar attacks on villagers and farmers… some of them fatal. Of course, as one might expect, news from rural areas in such places is sometimes questionable, both in detail and fact. “Unprovoked” may take a different meaning in the wake of tragedy, and it is hardly unusual to demonize the attacking beasts instead of logically considering all of the circumstances and evidence. But again, this is me, sitting in my comfortable office, with my nice computer, far from the place where these things are happening. I could be wrong.
At any rate, all of this is by way of me finding this stuff interesting. I’d love to be independently wealthy and able to travel the world to find these wild boar stories first hand… to maybe become another Jim Corbett, except instead of leopards and tigers, I’ll protect the villages from marauding wild boar. You would think the days of those stories are over, but I think maybe, only the cast of characters has changed.