New research project to map reach of invasive wild pigs in Alberta
Study will collect data on pig behaviour and their ability to transmit infectious diseases
There's a lot we don't know about invasive wild pigs and their spread across the province, but a new research project is hoping to change that.
The four year long study, led by University of Calgary Veterinary Medicine professor Dr. Mathieu Pruvot, will bring together collaborators from Alberta Pork, Alberta Beef Producers, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and Alberta Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Economic Development.
Pruvot says the project will focus on trying to understand wild pig population numbers, their behaviours, and their ability to transmit infectious diseases.
"We know that wild pigs are multiplying exponentially and spreading across Canada and so the question we're asking is what is this going to mean for disease management and disease transmission for livestock, wildlife and humans," said Pruvot.
While wild pigs have existed in Alberta since the 1990s, the animals were seen for the first time in Elk Island National park near Edmonton last fall.
"We're trying to understand first at a very broad scale where wild pigs are going to spread, what are they going to get into, how will they overlap with beef and swine production," said Pruvot.
Pruvot said that once the spread of wild pigs in the province is better understood, researchers will start observing how they interact with other species, in particular domesticated animals, to determine how they may spread infectious diseases.
Dr. David Chalack is the board chair at Results Driven Agriculture Research (RDAR), which invested more than $430,000 in project funding.
He said that while the spread of wild pigs across Alberta is an emerging problem, there is no time to lose in studying their impacts given the pace with which the pigs reproduce.
"They are so cunning and so difficult to exterminate they are becoming more pervasive in ecosystems across North America," said Chalack.
Chalack said learning how to minimize inter-species contact will be crucial in limiting the spread of diseases such as African swine fever, which he said would be devastating to Alberta's swine industry.
Because wild and domestic pigs are essentially the same species, there are no barriers for disease transmission between them, said Pruvot. It's not yet known how widespread different diseases are in Alberta's current wild pig population.
Pruvot said while wild pigs are common across Europe and are spreading throughout the southern U.S., it's hard to compare these invasions to the Canadian context, given in part the different landscapes.
"We can't really compare this to anything else we know."
With files from Dave Gilson