Photo by Wild Hog Watch

Researchers tackling boorish boars in the Prairies

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Canadian farmers are used to insects like wireworms, cutworms, beetles, and aphids wrecking havoc on their crops, but wild boars? This is a whole other type of pest.

For rural communities across the Prairies, feral pigs weighing more than 400 pounds with a penchant for tearing up crops and harassing livestock have become a huge headache and threat.

The boars devour crops, rip up plants from the roots, and feast on birds’ nests, leaving torn up land in their wake. They’re also known to terrorize domesticated pigs and even attack humans.

A wild boar terrorizes a domesticated pig.

In fact, the boars have become so destructive that the University of Saskatchewan, with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has created the program Wild Hog Watch to tackle the issue head on.

Ryan Brook, an assistant professor at the University of Saskatchewan and the founder of Wild Hog Watch, was tasked with the challenge of capturing the boars to create a map of Canada that pinpoints where the pigs have been spotted. To do this, Brook needs to place tracking collars on the boar’s neck, which are sometimes even bigger than its head.

And because the boars are swift, powerful, and can easily bulldoze humans, researchers have had to come up with equally crafty ways to catch them.

First he and his crew tried set up ground traps, using strawberry Jell-O as bait. But that effort failed to capture even one boar.

It was then that Brook knew he had to go high-tech.

Armed with a net gun, Brook stalks the pigs from a helicopter as they run through the rural property below. When he gets close enough to the intruder, he fires his a net, trapping the beast momentarily. While the boar is tangled up, crew members on the ground jump on the boar and hold down its powerful tusks.

A helicopter flies over a wild boar.

“It’s one person’s whole job to contain the head,” says Brook in an interview with the CBC. “Then another person is basically laying on top of the animal to hold it down.”

A researcher from Wild Hog Watch putting a GPS tracking collar on a boar.

Once they’ve put the boar in a wrestling-style lock, Brook collects blood and fecal samples, and puts a collar around its neck. The crew will continue collaring boars into the winter in the hopes they keep adding to their map. Until the boars’ whereabouts are better known, Canadians in rural areas need to be aware of this new intrusive species.

“It will be an ongoing concern for people just travelling and working in rural areas of Western Canada as these pig populations expand,” says Brook.