Without intervention, ‘superpigs’ could soon invade Alberta cities, researcher warns

In the northeastern Alberta town of Lamont, residents have been warned to be on guard against a possible invasion of wild boars. 

Roaming swine have been spotted inside town limits, prompting the community to send out a safety advisory.

“Be calm and move slowly,” reads the notice. “Do not corner or provoke the animal.”

For decades, Alberta has waged a battle against wild boar — a term that refers to the Eurasian wild boar but also to hybrids of domestic pigs and Eurasian wild boar, and wild or feral pigs.

Wild boar have been spotted in at least 28 rural municipalities and counties.

The province recently stepped up eradication efforts with increased surveillance, trapping, and cash bounties in exchange for the animals’ ears.

‘Worst invasive large mammal’

Recent sightings are a reminder that the elusive animals remain a threat to rural and urban habitats, said Ryan Brook, an associate professor of agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan and director of the Canada Wild Pig Research Project.

Wild boars are expanding their range and could soon move from the bush into Alberta cities, Brook said.

“They’re incredibly mobile. Very smart. They eat almost anything. They can survive in a huge range of habitats. 

“And so this is, unfortunately, exactly what we should expect to see more of in the future.”

Aggressive action will be required to keep the invaders from becoming a permanent fixture in backyards, city streets and town parks, Brook said. Any community south of the boreal forest border is at risk, he said.

“They’re the worst invasive large mammal on the planet.”

 

In Lamont, residents are on edge, said Kirk Perrin, the town’s mayor. The province confirms reports of property damage in the area.

“It just shows that an invasive species like this can come in and really throw a wrench in your plans — something that maybe you didn’t really plan for until it’s on your doorstep,” Perrin said.

In Barrhead, 150 kilometres northwest of Lamont, residents’ phones lit up earlier this month with an advisory from the town’s crime alert system.

Three boars were spotted running through residential streets and on the grounds of the provincial offices.

It was determined that the pigs were not feral but recent agricultural escapees, said Jennifer Pederson, a communications co-ordinator for the town of Barrhead.

The boars were en route to the butcher when they broke free, she said. Two were destroyed. One remains at large.

Even a lone pig on the loose is disconcerting, Pederson said. Alberta’s wild boar problem started with escaped farm pigs.

In a statement to CBC News, the province said it is actively trapping, conducting surveillance and closely monitoring wild boar in several counties.

It said a new bounty program that rewards hunters and trappers for killing boar will help government officials better track and eradicate the feral swine. No bounties have been claimed since the pilot program launched April 1. 

Wild boars can weigh up to 150 kilograms. They are protected from the cold by a woolly undercoat. Highly adaptive, they can travel more than 40 kilometres in a day.

Their ability to survive in almost any climate makes them among the most prolific invasive species in North America.

A different kind of beast

The vast majority of wild boars in Alberta are hybrids.

Brook describes them as “superpigs.”

Wild boars usually live in the forest, emerging to devour crops, contaminate water sources by wallowing in wetlands and harass livestock. They carry diseases that can be transmitted to domestic pigs.

Urbanized populations of the pigs found in the southern United States and European cities, including Berlin, have proven incredibly destructive, Brook said. The animals root through yards, devour flower beds and parkland, cause havoc in traffic, and attack people and pets.

Edmonton and Saskatoon will likely be among the first Canadian cities to contend with urban wild boars, Brook said.

“We’ve been monitoring here in Saskatoon for almost two years now with trail cameras in the city, with the notion that it’s not if they arrive, it’s when they arrive.” 

‘We’re really at a crossroads’

There is still time to keep boars out of Alberta’s cities, he said, but communities need to act fast, Brook said. 

He said Alberta’s bounty program won’t help eradication efforts and may have the effect of making the animals more elusive and nocturnal.  However, he said increased surveillance and trapping efforts should prove effective.

“We’re really at a crossroads,” Brook said. “Are we going to get ahead of this and start to see some wins or is this going to get out of hand and become simply impossible?

“Once things become widely established, then you simply have to acknowledge that eradication is no longer feasible.”

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