Wild Boar Explosion: Portuguese City Wants OK to Shoot
Updated: Nov 13
About a dozen javalis in Abrantes city center (Video from Tomar na Rede)
Wild boars are shaking up Portugal, presenting challenges that could spur creative solutions to their sharp increase.
The activity of wild boars, or javalis, led to 8 million euros of damages to corn crops in 2022, forcing many small and medium farmers to forego replanting, reported Agroportal (July 21). Farmers want compensation, but they have been frustrated by government and hunting associations shirking any responsibility.
The GNR recorded a higher incidence of road accidents involving wild boar:s 364 in 2019 to 985 last year, reported Expresso (July 11).
Also, experts worry about the highly contagious African swine fever, which has a high mortality rate in domesticated pigs and wild boars and has been “expanding westwards”.
“Twenty years ago, if we killed five wild boars, there would be a big celebration. Last year, in my hunting area in Ciborro, Montemor-o-Novo, in a single day, we killed 110 wild boars,” Jacinto Amaro, president of Fencaça (Portuguese Hunting Federation), told Expresso (August 24, 2022).
Portugal, along with Italy, Spain, other countries in Europe and elsewhere, have seen a significant rise in the number of wild boars in rural areas as well as an increase of the herbivores snuffling their way into villages, towns and cities, looking for food.
Different countries are following different control strategies or a combination of them, including indiscriminate killing by shooting, gas and lethal injection; selective killing of reproductive females; trapping and transport to safe, rural habitats; erecting metal and electric fences; setting up wading pools at city borders, and installing boar-proof trash cans.
Whatever the means, all the countries are united in their appeal to the public:
Please do not feed wild boars.
On a street in Rome, two sows feel unthreatened enough to breastfeed their piglets. Wild boars are now a familiar presence in 105 Italian cities compared with only two cities a decade ago, reported National Geographic (November 9, 2022).
Abrantes Feeling Under Siege
The municipality of Abrantes, in Santarém District, lies in a central enclave in Portugal, cushioned between the Ribatejo, Beira Baixa and Alto Alentejo. The city of Abrantes, on the bank of the Tagus River, has seen wild boars visit for a decade.
However, in the past four to five years, reports of sightings have become increasingly frequent in the city center, said Municipal President Manuel Jorge Valamatos. He called for the need to create a “strategy” and “legal framework” for “mitigating the excessive presence of animals of this species” within the city, reported Tomar na Rede (October 8).
“We are talking about shooting, with hunters in planned positions in urban areas and, working in concert with others. We are outlining a strategy so that licenses can be issued by the ICNF (Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests) and so that, in areas that are urban, there can be some concrete action of slaughtering these animals,” said President Manuel Jorge Valamatos.
The Abrantes Municipality president cited wild boars “endangering road safety” and “possible animal attacks, if they feel threatened”, though he noted that there are no records of attacks on people.
“Licenses have been issued by the ICNF (Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests) for specific killings of wild boars in hunting areas, and there has been intervention by hunters’ associations,” said the president, pointing out that “licenses are not issued to shoot within cities”.
In Jornal de Abrante (September 5), the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF) reiterated that Abrantes is considered non-hunting lands, and it does not have the power to act directly.
“It is up to the public security forces, in conjunction with the various entities with competences in these areas, to frame the actions leading to the resolution/minimization of the situation. With the ICNF available to provide technical support, it is already working with the Abrantes City Council to study possible actions to be taken to minimize the reported situations.”
The javali situation can seem, by some, to be overwhelming and uncontrollable.
300,000 Wild Boar
What has caused the increase of wild boars?
“Some abandonment of the rural world”, reproduction of the species, which is “very prolific” (typically, a litter of 2 to 7 per year but sometimes two litters), and a lack of natural predators, such as wolves and lynxes, are a few of the factors, according to Expresso (August 24, 2022).
There is an “overabundant” population of about 300,000 wild boars in Portugal, according to the Wild Boar Strategic and Action Plan, published in May, reported Expresso (July 11). There were no earlier estimates with which to make a comparison, but farmers, hunters and experts agree that there has been a big increase and that there are too many.
The wild boar plan, initiated by the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF) and prepared by experts at the University of Aveiro, confirmed the perceptions. With the numbers in hand, experts said that they are in a better position to study the situation and take action.
In urban environments, the situation in Portugal is far from the serious problems experienced in large European metropolises, such as Barcelona, Berlin or Rome, reported Expresso (August 24, 2022). However, Carlos Fonseca, one of the study’s authors, of CoLAB ForestWISE/University of Aveiro, said that urban populations of wild boars are beginning to appear and “get used to “the artificial food availability”, creating difficulties in managing the problem.
To avoid maximizing the problem, it is essential that people do not feed the animals and that they alert local authorities, according to Expresso. The Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF) asked people to avoid direct contact with the animals.
What to do if the animals approach you? Official agencies in any country do not seem to offer specific advice. However, one white-haired woman in Barcelona, who had a handbag strapped to her back and was carrying a small plastic bag and her keys, said that jangling her keys was an effective ploy to drive the animals away, according to Reuters (August 11, 2022).
Distribution across Portugal is “generalized”, including coastal and urban areas, but the regions of Trás-os-Montes, Beira Interior and Alentejo register a greater density.
“(The wild boar populations) are essentially out of control in places where it was unthinkable 20 years ago, when there were only a few,” said Jacinto Amaro, president of Fencaça (Portuguese Hunting Federation).
The increase occurred over the past two to three decades and is “in line with what happened in most European countries.” “It is not a national phenomenon; it is international,” explained the biologist, Carlos Fonseca, of the University of Aveiro.
The adult wild boar is about 120 centimeters (47.2 inches) in length with a tail length of 22 centimeters (8.7 inches). Its height is about 65 centimeters (25.6 inches). The female averages 40 kilograms (88.2 pounds) to 65 kilograms (143.3 pounds) and the male 70 kilograms (154.3 pounds) to 90 kilograms (198.4 pounds). Both can weigh as much as 150 kilograms (330.7 pounds), according to Portugal Hunting.
Its hair is thick and black, 10 centimeters (3.9 inches) to13 centimeters (5.1 inches) long. On the spine, the manes can reach 16 centimeters (6.3 inches). When faced with danger, it raises its spine manes, becoming larger in front of enemies. The color of its coat ranges from black to gray or even reddish. Boar piglets are born with dark stripes, which disappear in a few months.
The wild boar is a sociable and non-territorial animal that moves in matriarchal groups of about three to five females with their offspring. The adult male lives alone.
The animal has poor eyesight but a sharp sense of hearing, capturing sounds imperceptible to humans. Its most developed sense is of smell. It can detect food and enemies from more than 100 meters away and, even, find foods that are buried underground, according to Portugal Hunting.
Normally, it is sedentary during the day but, at night, it can travel long distances, almost always using the same routes, according to Portugal Hunting.
Its lifespan in the wild is 10 to 14 years.
Response in Portugal
The Wild Boar Strategic and Action Plan suggests that hunting should be the “privileged tool” to control the population, pointed out Carlos Fonseca, one of the study’s authors. Over the next five to 10 years, the rate of boar kills should increase by 20 to 30 percent compared to the current 10 percent, reported Expresso (July 11).
After the release of the report in May, the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF) published legal notices of changes to the hunting rules, which had restricted hunting to be carried out only inside the full moon period, ICNF vice president, Paulo Salsa, told Expresso.
In cornfields, raids with or without dogs as well as with or without firearms also are permitted, states the same legal notice. Jacinto Amaro, president of Fencaça, said that the animals “go there to spend the months of July, August and September, where they have food, refuge and water”.
In addition to hunting measures, the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF) has asked farmers to install electric fences as a way of scaring away the animals. Samuel Infante, of the environmental organization Quercus, warned of the “increase in illegal techniques”, specifically dangerous “iron traps”, which also put species at risk of extinction, such as the wolf and the lynx, at risk.
Based on findings of the study, the ICNF plans to hold more meetings with hunters and farmers to discuss “joint” responses since this “is not a problem that can be solved by the State” alone.
According to Paulo Salsa of ICNF, there may be the “possibility of having harvest insurance for farmers with these losses.”
In the Central region, the “very serious losses” in agriculture since the fires of 2017 have been exacerbated by wild boar damage,” said Isménio Oliveira, coordinator of the District Association of Farmers of Coimbra (ADACO), a member of the National Confederation of Agriculture (CAN), to Expresso. “Many people stopped sowing, especially corn, but there was also damage to vineyards, cereals and fruit trees.”
When wild boars cause damage, the law provides that the payment of losses within hunting areas is the responsibility of the entities managing those areas.
“What happens is that the associations of the hunting areas say that they don’t have money and don’t pay,” said Isménio Oliveira. It is necessary “for the government to pay for the losses or oblige those entitled to pay them, in this case, the local hunting associations. This situation cannot continue with losses of hundreds of thousands of euros.”
However, Fencaça, the national hunting federation, said that the State should be “responsible” because of the large range that wild boars travel at night to find food.
“During one night, wild boars travel 10 (6.2 miles), 15 (9.3 miles), 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) in search of food,” Jacinto Amaro, president of Fencaça (Portuguese Hunting Federation), told Expresso (August 24, 2022).
Samuel Infante, of Quercus, said that precisely because nature “has no borders”, wild boar populations must be managed in a concerted way.
Italian farmers protested in all of Italy’s 20 regional capitals in July 2021 against the wild boar “plague”. Some wore boar masks, and others waved banners reading, “After COVID, the plague of boar”, “We sow, the boar reap”, and “Town and country united against wild boar”. In the previous year, 215 people has been injured in wild boar incidents, including car crashes.
(Photo by @ Tiziana Fabi/AFP via Getty Images)
No Longer Afraid of Humans
Why are they searching for food among humans?
The wild boar is no longer afraid of people. They are also smart and extremely adaptable.
“(The approach of wild boars to villages) is a daily reality,” Isménio Oliveira, leader of the National Agricultural Confederation, told Expresso (August 24, 2022). “The animals have lost their fear. They go to people’s doors, especially if there is an orchard next to the house and in areas where there is fallow land. It is not a rare situation.”
In Barcelona alone, there were 1,200 incidents involving wild boars last year, reported Reuters (August 17).
“Attracted by garbage bins and people (especially tourists) feeding them, wild boars wander or lie about in parks and suburban streets, often causing scooter and bicycle accidents or pestering people carrying shopping bags.”
They have become too accustomed to scavenging to return to the wild. They are captured with drop nets, sedated and euthanized with lethal injection.
“No veterinarian likes to kill animals,” Carlos Conejero, a veterinary technician in charge of a program to control the boar problem in Barcelona, told Reuters. “But we have to do it. We cannot release them back into the wild because they have lost their instincts.”
In Spain, the wild boar population has doubled in two decades to about 1 million animals, a number that could double again by 2025, if adequate measures are not taken to control their populations, reported National Geographic España (September 5).
“Terrorized by Swine Fever”
Along with the increase of wild boars and expansion of their territory, there is concern about swine fever in Europe, which has been “expanding westwards”, said Carlos Fonseca, the study’s author.
“The probability of this disease reaching wild boar populations in Portugal is considerable, which means that we have to take precautions against a disease that can cause damage, not only from an ecological and environmental point of view, but also economically, since it is directly transmissible to pigs, with disastrous economic consequences.”
For the first time, at the 13th International Symposium of Wild Boars and Other Suids in Barcelona last year, there was consensus that wild boars need to be contained on the continent, reported National Geographic (November 9, 2022).
“People are not worried; they are terrorized by swine fever,” said Barbara Franzetti, coordinator of the wild boar program at the Presidential Estate of Castelporziano, a protected area just outside of Rome, and a biologist at the Italian Institute for Environmental Protection and Research (ISPRA) in Rome.
African swine fever (ASF), different from swine flu, is a highly contagious viral infection that can affect domestic and wild pigs, according to Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU), Germany’s largest nature conservation nongovernmental organization. The mortality rate can reach 100 percent.
It is not a danger to human health, but it has devastating effects on pig populations and the farming economy, according to the World Organisation for Animal Health.
Human behavior, however, can play an important role in spreading this pig disease across borders if people do not take adequate measures. The virus is highly resistant in the environment, meaning that it can survive on clothes, boots, wheels and other materials. Also, it can survive in various pork products, such as ham, sausages or bacon.
34,000 Culled in Italy
Italy has an estimated 1 million wild boars, according to National Geographic (November 9, 2022).
In September in Italy, almost 34,000 pigs were culled after a cluster of outbreaks three months earlier in Lombardy, a region known as Italy’s pork belt and one of Europe’s main pig-producing areas, reported The Guardian (September 25). The disease had been found to be spread by a wild boar.
Pig farming in Italy yielded 11 billion euros in turnover, and 70,000 employees work in the supply chain, according to il sole 24 ore (June 23).
“We cannot leave all the responsibility for containment in the hands of hunters and forest ranger,” said Paolo Maccazzola, president of Confederazione Italiana Agricoltori in Lombardia. “Culling carried out in a targeted manner and, above all, quickly is necessary.”
Swine fever is disrupting pig breeding around the world, said Francesco Feliziani, who leads Italy’s national reference lab for swine fever, to The Guardian.
He warned that non-intensive, traditional livestock farming, which might not have sufficient levels of biosecurity, were particularly at risk and could disappear altogether.
Video footage of the Lombardy culls, filmed by We Animals Media in collaboration with Essere Animali, both nongovernmental organizations, showed “an overview of the procedure, including an infected farm that had been adapted to work as a mobile slaughterhouse, operating nonstop for over a week,” a spokesperson said in an email.
“Workers received pigs from other infected farms and herded them into temporary gas chambers set up inside containers, where the animals were killed.”
Pig Brig, used in Italy and Germany, is a net trap that can catch up to 60 wild boars at a time.
Research in Rome
Andrea Monaco, a zoologist, has been studying Italy’s wild boars for more than 20 years at the Italian Institute for Environmental Protection and Research in Rome, according to National Geographic (November 9, 2022).
Monaco and other scientists and wildlife experts are learning new interventions to stall the boars’ advance. For example, they tried out a lightweight, double-walled net trap marketed as Pig Brig from the United States, which is facing the same challenges from wild boar. Anchored to the ground like a tent, the 8,000 foot-pound (1,106 kilogram-force meter) drop netting can catch up to 60 boars at a time. Such nets could slow the population’s growth, particularly if many reproductive females are caught in them.
In many cases, the captured animals are euthanized on the spot, then sold or donated as meat. Sometimes, the boars are outfitted with ear tags to allow tracking and understanding of their habits.
“If we don’t change radically the way we manage ‘wild boars’, the population will continue to grow,” said biologist, Barbara Franzetti, at the Presidential Estate of Castelporziano, the protected area outside Rome.
Does Hunting Work? It’s Complicated
Several countries have not seen much benefit from widespread hunting.
In Poland, since 2017, wild boar can be hunted year-round. In 2021, there were more than 4.6 million hunts with the killing of 269,000 wild boars, according to the Polish Hunting Association. Yet, the animal is encroaching increasingly into the largest metropolitan areas, such as Warsaw, where there are more than 1,000 wild boars.
In Italy, hunters kill about 295,000 boars annually. However, the animals reproduce at a faster rate. Each year, their population can grow as much as 150 percent, said the zoologist, Andrea Monaco.
Part of the problem, he said, is that 30 to 40 percent of Italy’s 500,000 hunters practice caccia in braccata, in which a few hunters with dogs herd boars toward other hunters at particular stations, where the animals are killed in this communal way. It gives hunters the opportunity to meet friends, be in nature and socialize afterwards.
However, hunters tend to seek the larger boars, disintegrating the family nucleus and scattering the smaller females that will begin their reproductive cycle earlier.
Instead, the government should hire hunters to target reproductive females, which would reduce the population drastically, said Monaco.
However, many traditional hunters oppose this idea, both because of its solitary nature and because it would limit the boars available for the braccata.
Massimo Buconi, the president of Federcaccia, Italy’s historic hunters’ association, said that he is aware of selective hunting but that it would not be enough. He said he believes that only hunters who can catch dozens of boars at once during a braccata can solve the problem and that hunters should be allowed more autonomy to intervene in protected areas.
Antonino Morabito, an ethologist for Legambiente, a Rome-based environmental nonprofit, noted that hunters and hunting groups often hold political influence in local governments.
“For these people, hunting means a lot, so it affects them when they have to choose who to vote for,” said Morabito. “This is the reason why the Italian public administration remains clearly conditioned by this choice.”
In Spain, although 400,000 boars are hunted per year, the country’s population still could double by 2025, according to data from the country’s Institute of Hunting Research.
The only significant cause of death for wild boars is hunting, said Hunting Resources Research Institute Professor of Animal Health Christian Gortázar told El Español (August 12). In 2020, a total of 354,577 were captured, according to the Spanish Hunting Federation and reported to El Periódico de España. This number represents almost half of the wild boars captured a decade ago.
Spain is “progressively running out of hunters”, said Gortázar. Not only that, but those who still hunt are older and, therefore, “less capable of controlling the wild boar population.”
Catalonia, an autonomous community in Spain, is encouraging hunters with a budget of 640,000 euros for payments of 1,300 euros for individuals hunting a wild boar, reported the hunting magazine, Revista Jara y Sedal (April 24).
This 26-story pig farm in Ezhou, Hubei Province, is one of China’s newest pig-breeding operations. (Photo from The Guardian)
China’s Multistory Pig Farms
After a devastating outbreak in 2018, farmers in China were forced to kill hundreds of millions of pigs to stop the virus’ spread, reported National Geographic (November 9, 2022). To control swine fever outbreaks in China, producers are building high-rise pig farms that are deemed to have higher standards of disease control compared with backyard ones, reported The Guardian (September 25).
However, some experts said that large-scale intensive farms increased the likelihood of ever-bigger disease outbreaks, according to The Guardian (November 25, 2022).
“Intensive facilities can reduce interactions between domesticated and wild animals and their diseases but, if a disease does get inside, they can break out among animals like wildfire,” said Matthew Hayek, an assistant professor in environmental studies at New York University.
Germany’s Multipronged Effort
Since the discovery of the first swine fever case in Germany (in September 2020), state authorities have erected kilometers of metal fencing; educated farmers; enrolled sniffer dogs; equipped hunters with night-vision equipment; paid hunters for each wild boar fatally shot, and asked walkers to be on the alert,” reported The Guardian (January 7, 2021).
The German government has killed off scores of wild boars using 400 of the Pig Brig net traps.
In Brandenburg, for example, “hog damage is down, and hog sightings on the cameras are down, said Carl Gremse, part of a team working to control swine fever in the city, to National Geographic (November 9, 2022).
The number of registered cases of swine fever in Germany was more than 300 in January 2021, according to The Guardian.
A high-tech pen succeeded in catching 20 wild boars in Krakow, Poland, its first night in July 2021. The three sows and 17 piglets were taken in a trailer to a safe place for them.
In addition to ethical and safety considerations, “shooting wild boars does not solve the problem and, in many cases, this practice increases reproduction, a phenomenon also found among wolves, said Uri Shanas, a biologist at Israel’s University of Haifa, told National Geographic (November 9, 2022).
Shanas designed a promising experiment that kept boars out of the city of Kiryat Tiv’on, in Haifa District.
“Since boars like to wallow in mud to cool off, to get rid of parasites and to burrow in the mud for food, we set up wading pools for them in natural areas, and it was very successful. They came to the pools, splashed around, played and had fun. And their excursions into Kiryat Tiv’on decreased.”
Carme Rosell, head of Minuartia, an environmental consulting firm in Spain, and her team have collaborated on a guide of deterrent measures for Spanish municipalities, such as making trash cans and cat feeders boar-resistant as well as populating green areas with plants distasteful to boars.
In Rome, wildlife officials have installed nets around trash cans or substituted the bins with boar-proof models, with some success.
Some animal welfare groups advocate sterilizing females instead of killing them. Massimo Vitturi, an activist for Anti-Vivisection League, a Rome-based nonprofit, suggested that wildlife officials could inject sows with a drug that renders them infertile.
However, Vitturi admitted that this approach is limited by logistics and the costs of manually injecting the female boars one by one. Furthermore, Monaco said that the effects of such treatments would vanish after a few years, making sows free to reproduce again.
When African Swine Fever Reached Europe
African swine fever has been confined mainly in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the National Library of Medicine.
The relatively small numbers of incursions to other countries have proven to be difficult challenges.
The disease has remained endemic in Sardinia since its introduction to the autonomous region of Italy and, therefore, Europe in 1982.
The virus was introduced to Georgia in 2007 and has since spread to Eastern Europe. In 2014, there was an appearance, for the first time, in a country of the European Union (Lithuania). In the summer of 2017, the pathogen was detected in the Czech Republic and, in 2019, in western Poland, according to Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union.
In September 2020, the first outbreak of African swine fever in wild boars in Germany was officially detected in Brandenburg. In 2021, swine fever also was detected in domestic pigs, again in Brandenburg.
“The expansion of the wild boar has been incredible in Spain, in Europe and in other places in the world,” said Carme Rosell, a biology expert in wildlife management,” told National Geographic España (September 5).
Many rural neighbors along with city residents and visitors feed them even though wild boars are wild animals, not domestic ones. We should do everything possible to get them back into the forests, said Rosell.