A surreal situation has emerged in Hong Kong. Wild boars are plaguing the city. They run through the streets, scaring locals and eating rubbish, often in exclusive neighbourhoods home to millionaires. Ben O’Rourke fills us in on how that happened, with video produced by Hong Kong-based journalist Scott Murphy and camera and sound by David Chung.
In the 1990s, the Hong Kong Tourism Board came up with the tagline “wonders never cease” in its adverts selling the place to foreigners. Many people living there at the time saw this as a bit of a joke. But now it’s become true.
Where else would you get wild boar roaming the streets of the most expensive neighbourhoods?
“Residents are faced with them coming to the refuse collection points and rummaging all over the food waste, making a big mess,” says Jeremy Young, district councillor for the Peak on Hong Kong Island, a place where property prices make even millionaires’ heads spin. It is a persistent pig problem that has grown over the last two years.
Locals complain to Young daily about boars. The animals stalk their maids as they deliver what the boar see as daily feasts to refuse areas in large black plastic bags. In the morning, the streets are strewn with the leftovers.
“Some loving residents actually bring food to feed the pigs. That’s just wrong,” says Young. “The new generation of the wild boars who have been exclusively fed on human diet, they don’t know what the right diet is.”
“They are becoming junk food boars,” he says – even if it is high-quality junk food.
Down the hill in the residential district of Pok Fu Lam, district councillor Paul Zimmerman has the same problem. “Most of the images people see about Hong Kong are the high-rises and that intense density that we have in the urban areas… but also Hong Kong has large areas of land mass that is pure, hardcore nature… I would estimate about 60%.”
Paul first came to the city in 1984 when it was a British colony. After working for years in business, he turned to politics and has been in his current role for 10 years. Things have changed in the neighbourhood since then.
“In those days, the leading complaints were about public transport, minibuses frequency and those issues. Ten years later my main complaint issue is wild boars,” he says. “If people leave waste around unsecured, then they’ll go there and eat. The issue right now is the animals come out, especially when it’s dry when there are less roots for them, to see what they can pick from the refuse.”
As technologically advanced and efficient Hong Kong is, the government’s approach appears backwards when it comes to pest control.
In 2017, it scrapped the city’s hog hunt team, which would be called out to kill boars that were causing problems, like attacking people or getting their heads stuck in railings – a surprisingly common problem. Pressure from animal-loving antis, who mostly don’t live in the villages where dogs and people are pig prey, forced officials to disband the unit.
“I love animals too but I am quite rational when it comes to balancing the safety priorities of humans versus the population of wild animals,” says Young, who questions the decision and thinks it should probably be reversed.
Right now, the government has a policy of capturing, neutering then releasing the pigs in the wild. But it’s costly, takes time and has had few successes.
There are calls by some to let people hunt the boars, or at least let villagers trap and eat them.
“We see it in Japan, they allow trapping and hunting and eating wild boars as a way of controlling,” says Zimmerman. Could the same be happening in Hong Kong, unofficially?
“I’m told it’s good meat. I’m told there is a restaurant in one of the country parks – on the edges in a village area – where you can basically let the guys know a week ahead of time that you want to eat wild boar the next time you come around.”
A friend of mine who lived in a village near Tai Po in the New Territories routinely had boars visiting the vegetable plot in front of his house. They lived in woods on a hill nearby.
He is an artist who makes metal sculptures, a detail that caught the attention of his landlord, who pestered him to build a cage so he could trap the animals.
“The meat is so sweet,” the landlord used to tell him.
My friend is vegetarian, so you can probably guess the end of that story.
This item appears in Fieldsports Britain, episode 546. Click here to watch the whole show