/The problem with pigs

The problem with pigs

As if we didn’t have enough worries about the environment here’s a new one: wild pigs.

These beasts considered one of the world’s most destructive invasive species are well established in the Prairie provinces and are showing up in Ontario. They are the hybrid offspring of imported wild boars and domestic swine.

They are prolific breeders and there are fears they will multiply uncontrollably and destroy natural and agricultural areas here in Ontario.

Early last year the Ontario government reported 28 wild pig sightings and has launched a new pilot study to monitor sightings and gather information to determine what can be done to stop a wild pig population from becoming established.

In Haliburton County two wild pig sightings were reported in 2019 one an escaped pot-bellied pig. Wild pigs can survive winter because unlike domestic pigs they have thick bristly hair.

They are a serious problem in the U.S. firmly established in 35 states. The U.S. government says they cause $2 billion a year in damage trampling plant life rooting up huge areas and squeezing out other wildlife. They also can spread diseases to wild and domestic animals and to humans.

They dig holes up to three feet deep snorting about for food. Their digging also uncovers tree and shrub roots exposing them to disease and damage.

“Wild pigs are ecological train wrecks” says Ruth Aschim a University of Saskatchewan doctoral student who led a research team that studied wild pig expansion in Canada. The study found that territory occupied by wild pigs has increased on average by 88000 square kilometres a year over the last decade.

They were not always considered destroyers of the environment. In fact they once were considered helpful critters which I learned while pursuing my hobby of family tree research.

I have traced my family back many centuries discovering it evolved from a tribe of Saxon barbarians who invaded southern England from Europe. They settled in what now is West Sussex and when they became somewhat civilized established the village of Poling which exists today.

The Poling villagers had pannage rights to a chunk of forest to their north. Pannage was an ancient practice of letting pigs and other livestock loose in a forested area to fatten on acorns chestnuts and other delectables. This particular chunk of forest was called Palinga Schittas (Old English for swine sheds of the Polings) as mentioned in an AD 953 Sussex charter of King Eadred.

Letting the pigs run wild in the forest not only fattened them for slaughter but helped create garden areas. The pigs dug up the soil so thoroughly that rototilling – shovelling back in those days – was unnecessary.

Wild pigs saved many back muscles.

Times change and now we have tractors to break the land. Wild pigs are not needed and are considered by some biologists as the greatest emerging wildlife challenge of the 21st century.

Pigs are not native to North America. They were brought here by early explorers and settlers then again in modern times to diversify livestock production and to provide sport hunting opportunities.

Folks no doubt thought importing the beasts was a good idea at the time. However they have developed into a problem of our own making.

The biggest part of the problem is that they breed like rabbits. They start having sex as young as six months and one female wild pig can produce a couple dozen piglets every 12 months or so over a lifespan of four to eight years.

So it is not hard to believe the U.S. department of agriculture estimate that there are seven million wild hogs on the loose in that country.

Part of Ontario’s new pilot study is to encourage people to report any sightings of pigs outside a fence. It is asking people reporting sightings to include a description and if possible a picture. Sightings can be reported by email to wildpigs@ontario.ca or on the iNaturalist Ontario Pig Reporting webpage.

The government’s goal is to use information from sightings and variety of other sources to decide what measures can be taken to stop wild pigs from becoming fully established in the province. The U.S. has found that trying to eliminate wild pig populations even through extensive hunting is almost impossible.