Tim’s gaucho Carlos looks grimly at the little pile of bones in front of him, writes Alex Howell. “Between last month and this month we lost about 20 sheep. It is predominately lambs, but for the farmer it is a big loss,” he says.
Carlos has a problem. He has to control what is rapidly becoming an epidemic of wild boar on his land in northern Argentina. They are omnivores, fast breeders and superbly adapted for this thick brush country.In the latest episode of TV series Rucksack & Rifle, Tim Pilbeam hunts boar with Fieldsports TV viewer Carlos in Argentina. Here is our film about how he gets on.
Picture a bag of potatoes like you would buy in a supermarket. Now replace those potatoes with nuts, berries, carrion, roots, tubers, refuse, insects, small reptiles, young deer and lambs. Every day, a big feral hog will eat six of those bags of potatoes, and a small boar two bags.
Northern Argentina is not the only place in the world to suffer from these animals. Crops across areas such as Texas are devastated as the animals dig holes three feet deep looking for food. They use words such as ‘apigolypse’ and ‘hogzilla’ in the Lone Star State to describe the problem. Scientists have lost count of the numbers of animals in the USA, saying now they number in the millions in Texas alone. Meanwhile, in Australia. official estimates suggest there are now 23 million feral pigs, outnumbering the continent’s human population of 21 million. They are the descendants of domestic pigs which explorers such as Captain Cook released as a living larder for future expeditions. In and around Europe, they range from the deserts of North Africa to the Arctic, with Germany alone recording more than a million animals. They can be found on every continent except Antarctica. From the pig’s point of view, they are one of the animal success stories of the 21st century. From a human perspective, they are a challenge and a nuisance.
Like Australia and the USA, the Argentine hogs are a mix of feral pigs and pure European wild boar. They grow to 300kg, big enough to kill lambs, full grown sheep and calves.
“It’s a massive issue and we know lots of people in the area that complain. The neighbour next door brings his sheep in every evening just to ensure he doesn’t lose them,” says Carlos.
You will hear Carlos’s words replicated all around the world, with problems cited ranging from dead livestock, damage to agriculture and forestry and the carrying of disease. Fieldsports Channel has carried item after item about wild boar worldwide.
In Texas, Terry Tate of Big Bore Airguns says: “There are so many hogs in Texas and the United States. We do everything we can to keep them under control but the population keeps growing.”
Here is a film we made about hunting with Terry in Texas:
Like Carlos, Terry believes part of the answer lies in asking local hunters to take on the job of boar control. In Texas, helicopter companies charge four-figure sums to take shooters on aerial hog hunts. In Germany, the shooting of wild boar has more of a cultural heritage, but local governments have made sure that hunters compensate farmers with cash if they do not shoot enough boar.
After years of increased regulation and bans on hunting large animals in the UK, the Government’s approach top boar is surprising. British government environment ministry DEFRA has a ‘wild boar action plan’ that puts the responsibility for keeping on top of these animals fell on to landowners.
Landowners who hunt, which is most of them, have responded enthusiastically. There are thousands of feral and wild boar roaming the British countryside’s woods, and shooting them has become an established sport. Derek Williams is a boar expert and keen shooter and has experienced problems with the animals in more than one way. “A lot of the farmers they don’t mind deer but they don’t like wild boar, cattle farmers have to make silage and all you need is dirt to make it and they (the boar) dig it up, then you have the problems of hysteria in cows and sheep,” he says
Derek is concerned that people in the UK do not know what a problem boar can be. He says:
“I can go out by our drive and you’ll get cars going across at a ridiculous speed, and all you need is a boar at 200lb in weight in front of a car and you know there will be problems with it. I still like to see the boar but people need to be aware and be careful.”
Here is a film we made about hunting with Derek in the UK:
Despite the efforts of hunters and Government pest controllers the world over, boar numbers are still increasing. In the Forest of Dean in the UK, they have started to attack dogs, children and cars. In the three years to September 2016, wild boar numbers in the forest tripled to more than 1,500, despite pledges by DEFRA agencies to keep numbers to 400. However population management is done, it is clear it is down to the hunters to do it.