Four centuries ago wild boars were hunted to extinction in the UK. Now “they’re back” – to misquote Terminator star Arnold Schwarzenegger – and creating mayhem (rather like Arnie). They’re pests, do damage, and are dangerous. In the Forest of Dean there are some 1,600 of the beasts.
Is that really a problem? Isn’t it good once more to have those beasts roaming freely as in days of yore, the fierce-looking black adults and appealingly stripy offspring?
Well, no. Down in Wiltshire, they’ve even invaded the beautiful National Trust gardens at Stourhead where, according to a report in The Times, visitors complained of being “confronted and intimidated” by the creatures.
Isn’t this all a bit snowflaky? I mean, wild animals are, well, wild. If, also in Wiltshire, you visit Longleat, the original UK Safari Park, do you complain that the lions or elephants are dangerous? Once in a while, a rhino has a go at a car. Monkeys tear aerials off. I recall, walking in an area populated by “safe” animals some decades ago, being warned that “the giraffes kick with all four feet”. All four feet? I was puzzled. Surely they’d land flat on their stomachs? I didn’t feel threatened: but we did take care. Foolish not to.
Other countries live with wild animals more sinister than pigs. In Alaska, grizzly bears raid waste bins in search of food. Generally the marauding beasts are darted and transported far away: only if they keep returning are they shot. But then, in Alaska you don’t wander in the dark when bears are around. It’s common sense, or self-preservation.
As for our very English boar problem, surely it can’t hurt visitors, while enjoying Stourhead’s gardens, to take a bit of care? Leave the wild animals alone, and they will leave you alone: a sound rule of thumb.
Except that one person has reportedly lost his thumb to a female boar. Then there’s the argument that these animals aren’t a genuinely wild species: they’re the descendants of escaped captives, often interbred with domesticated pigs.
Worse, and a bore for the boars, current calls for a cull are linked to concerns of swine fever in the wild boar population in Belgium. Swine fever is to pigs what foot and mouth is to cattle: death to the farming industry. Nonetheless I question how a disease among wild boars on the mainland of Europe transmits to a UK population. Doesn’t being an island afford some degree of security?
According to The Times, sensible voices (such as that of Dr Zoe Davies, Chief Executive of the National Pig Association) seek not extermination, but better control. Our lack of awareness compounds the problem: “people do not understand how clever boars are and how dangerous they can be”.
A cull underway in the Forest of Dean inevitably provokes Wild Boar Cull Saboteurs. Their spokesman, Drew Pattern, reckons that the Forest’s 37,000 acres offer the creatures ample space, adding, “if they are treated with respect they will leave you alone, and they are wonderful to watch”.
It’s perhaps boorish of me to opine on a topic I know little about: though that’s never stopped me before! But I reckon we humans are too quick to get our rifles out whenever we sense a “problem” with wild animals – always a matter of their getting in the way of our inexorable expansion. Our attitude to them can resemble that of housing NIMBYism. We insist government should build more homes: just not in our back yard.
To be sure, culls are necessary in some circumstances: for example, to deal with the over-population of deer in parts of Scotland. At the same time, it appears that the current badger cull is failing in both implementation and effect.
Maybe there are too many boars even for the sparsely-populated Forest of Dean. But I confess I’d like to see some: and if I spotted a female with young, I’d have the sense to stay in the car or climb a tree.
Besides, if we’re quick to burst into tears and save penguins (a species rarely encountered in the Forest of Dean), why be unkind to poor old boars?