Researchers master art of tackling wild boars to collar invasive species
'The animals will chase and attack people,' a researcher says
There have been reports of wild boars, weighing more than 400 pounds, running wild on the Canadian Prairies.
Ryan Brook said the boars can be aggressive and are destroying native species across Western Canada, and yet no one knows much about them or where they live.
Brook is an assistant professor at the University of Saskatchewan and, with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he has started a research program called Wild Hog Watch.
Dangerous and destructive
"The animals will chase and attack people," Brook said, who has had to take precautions himself to stay safe in the field.
"It will be an ongoing concern for people just travelling and working in rural areas of Western Canada as these pig populations expand."
The damage these feral pigs inflict is far more devastating than their attitude towards humans. These pigs, considered an invasive species, don't just graze when they eat, they rip up the ground and tear plants out by their roots, Brook told CBC News. This has caused damage to crops across the Prairies. All crops are at risk, because the wild boars don't seem to have a preference.
The boars are also known to feed on the nests and eggs of native bird species, Brook said he's seen areas where bird nests have been virtually eliminated.
To boot, they also harass livestock, he said.
The animals were brought to Canada's Prairies in the 1980s and '90s in a government-sponsored initiative to create agricultural diversity for farmers, Brook said.
But the boar being the crafty animal that it is, escaped.
The animals, now loose in Western Canada have demonstrated their impressive reproductive capacity. They can bear two litters per year, with each litter averaging more than six piglets.
While we don't yet have an estimated number of wild boars in Canada, the United States has between 3.5 to four million of them, Brook told CBC News. Half of the rural municipalities in southern Saskatchewan have reported feral pigs.
Brook's aim is to create a map of Canada that outlines the known whereabouts of the animals. They are collaring as many of the animals as they can, beginning in Saskatchewan's Moose Mountain Provincial Park last winter.
"So we got five [collared animals] deployed this winter and that was our big success story," Brook said. "We found a couple ways of not doing it successfully."
Ground traps: 0 – Wily pigs: 1
Their first attempt at catching the boars was using ground traps, Brook found that the animals are real suckers for strawberry Jell-O. And yet, they did not catch a single pig that way.
For attempt two, they got a helicopter involved with a net gun. Once the hog is trapped in the net, the first thing they do is secure the tusks, the "main danger zone."
"So it's one person's whole job to contain the head. Then another person is basically laying on top of the animal to hold it down," Brook explained.
They collect blood and fecal samples and put a collar on the pig, which is difficult since their neck is as big, or bigger, than their head.
"With pigs it's been a bit of a learning curve, that's for sure, and really interesting challenges," Brook said.
He and his team will continue collaring boars this winter, expanding their project's reach.
Anyone who sees feral pigs should contact the conservation officers in their province, he said.