Ontario farmers can help each other out, by reporting sightings of wild boar, and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has developed a new website to make this easy.
Wild boar are an invasive species, in Canada. But the reason farmers should step up sighting and reporting is to prevent them from becoming a reservoir for diseases like African Swine Fever (ASF).
The devastating foreign animal disease is being spread in Belgium through the wild boar population, and Canadian Swine Veterinarian Egan Brockhoff warns that if ASF arrives here and finds its way into the wild boar population, it will be almost impossible to eradicate.
Saskatchewan has over a million wild pigs and their elimination is the subject of ongoing debate. Alberta has finally abandoned its $50 per head bounty as ineffectual and moved to a controlled hunt.
Ontario wild boar numbers appear to be much smaller. But the challenge is finding the pigs to come up with an accurate estimate.
Keith Munro is a wildlife biologist with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH).
Last summer, Munro put an ad in OFAH’s Ontario Out of Doors magazine, and on social media, asking readers to report any sightings of wild boar.
“I hoped I would hear nothing,” he told Ontario Farmer. Instead “we actually got a lot of response: ten different sightings.”
There were several from Eastern Ontario, but also reports from Chatham/Kent in the southwest, and Parry Sound, in the north.
Ryan Brook, who is based out of the University of Saskatchewan, is Canada’s expert on wild boar. “Brook says if you do only passive surveillance, then you’re getting less than five per cent of the pigs,” said Munro.
Using this factor, Munro’s ten reports extrapolate to 200 animals. And so, he concludes, “I think we have the opportunity to get ahead of this problem.”
The wild boar living in our midst are escapees from the 1980s, when they were imported from Europe to be farmed animals for exotic meat.
“They do very well in the wild,” said Munro. “They are incredible animals for their ability to survive and thrive.” But, he said “They’re ecological bulldozers,” and do a lot of damage, both to land and watercourses, as well as carrying disease.
Ontario’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act actually prohibits the release of wild boar, and requires reporting of any escapes.
“OFAH had has a policy against boar going back to the 1990s, due to the risk to the environment,” Munro said.
Munro said he took his report of sightings to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry “and argued that we need to do a better job of tracking these”.
The ministry now has a lead person, in the form of Erin Koen, appointed to its wild boar file.
“The ministry is working to increase the province’s collective knowledge of wild boar occurrences and locations,” said the senior media relations officer for MNRF, Jolanta Kowalski, in an email to Ontario Farmer.
“This work has included the creation of content on our website (www.ontario.ca/page/reporting-wild-boar-ontario) and an iNaturalist page at www.inaturalist.org/projects/ontario-wild-pig-reporting to educate, promote awareness, and collect sightings.
“The invasive potential and risks to the environment that wild boar pose is taken seriously by the ministry and we will continue to work with the public, stakeholders, and partnering agencies to prevent the escape/release and spread of these animals.”
“We need to know where they are before determining if removal is required or feasible. Wild boar are difficult to detect because they are elusive and mostly nocturnal. This is why we are asking the public to report sightings. With more eyes looking for them we can get a better data of their distribution.”