The Wild Boar
In this series we’ll be mainly dealing with alien species invading new parts of the world. However it’s important to recognise that not all invasive species are alien to the territories they invade, and not all invasive species are unanimously unwelcome. Today, we look at a species that is now returning to its former native territory, and which is being welcomed back by some.
What are they?
Sus scrofa, or wild boar, are viewed by many Norwegians as almost as an unwelcome invader from Sweden as crunchy waffles. However, this was not always the case. Despite now being on the notorious Norwegian Black List, wild boar are actually native to Europe and were once part of the local fauna. Between the growing population in Sweden pressing at the Eastern border and rising temperatures that are projected to lead to more suitable habitat, it is a good moment to re-evaluate whether re-introducing Norwegian wild boar would be a travesty or a delicious addition to Neo-Fjordic cuisine.
What makes them undesirable?
Wild boar are one of the most widespread species in the world (they can be found on every continent except Antarctica) due to their intelligence, high levels of reproduction, and the fact that they will eat anything. It is not uncommon to hear about 250+ kg wild boar roving the woods like hungry, hairy, school buses. Wild boar are nocturnal, which accounts for the number of automobile and train collisions in Europe. Like any wild animal, wild boar can also be dangerous for humans when provoked, having often caused injuries in areas where they are accustomed to human activity. I have my own experiences being wary of these animals. During field work, we caught a beautiful 25kg female, which four burly French men held her down while I went to determine her age. Upon opening her mouth, one of said burly individuals promptly shouted “that’s how the last technician lost his finger!”. That woke me up faster than any coffee could.
With great size comes great hunger, and with diminishing forests, wild boar are turning to cropsfor food. This is costly for farmers and for the governments who compensate them – in the USA wild boar crop damage is estimated to be $800 million/year. In Europe, the economic damage wild boar can inflict goes beyond rooting activity and crop damage. African swine fever, which wild boar can transmit indirectly to domestic pigs, has spread from Russia to central Europe, posing a danger to consumers of European pork products. This has lead to the European Union banning the import of pork from countries where there are reported cases of the disease. The Danes are even proposing building a fence between Denmark and Germany (take that Trump) to protect their enormous share of the European bacon market. So keeping wild boar out of Norway means safer crops in the field, safer meat on the the market, and potentially safer roads.
Why might people want wild boar to migrate to Norway?
The incentive of having wild boar to hunt can fuel tourism, bringing in big bucks for small towns and villages. And before we cynically write off hunting tourism as exploitative, let’s remember the key role that hunters play in conservation. Hunters and hunting has long been a reason that land and species have been protected.
There is also, of course, the question of the species originally being native to Norway. The species was driven extinct by Mesolithic hunters, but is likely to return due to their preferred habitat – broadleaf forests – spreading from the South. In Sweden, the newly established population of enclosure escapees is transforming the landscape. Wild boar rooting activity provides an opportunity for less competitive species to become established and has allowed for more diverse flora. In a world where invasive plant species are outcompeting rarer species, the disturbances that wild boar make provides a unique opportunity for preserving biodiversity. Local people in Østfold, where there have been several Swedish wild boar sightings in recent years, are beginning to support the reintroduction of wild boar on conservation grounds. They argue that the cold climates of Norway will limit the spread of wild boar and just bring back a species that is naturally occurring.
So are wild boar a menace or just misunderstood?
This is a difficult question to answer. Although reintroducing wild boar could be positive-both for the economy and biodiversity-they can be dangerous, spread diseases and have a negative impact on farmers. For now, at least, hunters are able to shoot wild boar as soon as they cross the Swedish border.
For more information on Lara’s fieldwork, click here.