Saskatoon

Wild pig population continues 'massive expansion' in Sask., prof warns

Saskatchewan could be populated by more wild pigs than humans in the next 50 years, says a University of Saskatchewan professor - and there is currently no long-term provincial plan to eradicate the species.

Sask. Crop Insurance Corp. head says he's not convinced on 'explosive population' warnings

A male wild pig roams in Saskatchewan. U of S professor Ryan Brook says the province needs a specific plan to curb the population of the animals, which he says can do 'tremendous damage.' (Submitted by Ryan Brook)

Ryan Brook predicts that within his lifetime, Saskatchewan will be home to more wild pigs than people.

"They're a problem around the world. A massive problem, really," said Brook, an associate professor in the college of agriculture and bioresources at the University of Saskatchewan who specializes in wildlife.

"They're often referred to as ecological train wrecks, because they get into natural environments and do tremendous damage."

The concern now, Brook says, is that as the population of the pigs is expanding in Saskatchewan, it's also pushing closer to the U.S. border.

"This is now my 10th year of talking about this problem, and each year we've published peer-reviewed studies that show this massive expansion," he said.

"Nobody should be surprised."

While one Crown corporation official says he thinks Brook may be overstating the problem, Brook warns that "once these animals get established, getting rid of them is a real challenge" — and he doesn't think the province is doing enough to halt their spread.

The animals are a hybrid of domestic pigs and Eurasian wild boars. In the late 20th century, they were used as livestock and game for hunters.

Wild boars reproduce rapidly — the pigs can have litters, usually of four to six, more than once a year.

They pose ecological problems like crop damage and spread disease among wildlife and livestock — the monetary cost of which is shocking. Brook noted that globally, the pigs cause billions of dollars in crop damage each year.

The greatest concentration of wild pigs is found in Alberta and Saskatchewan, but other provinces and territories are seeing their own wild pig populations grow.

Other countries have tried and failed to eradicate the species. In Saskatchewan, the provincial government has an eye on the situation, but it can only go so far to curb the spread of the wild pigs.

The most recent map indicating the location of wild pig populations in Saskatchewan. (Submitted by Ryan Brook)

The Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corporation took over the pig management program from the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities in 2015. The program remains much the same as it was then. 

"We put some extra effort into it, with more diligence," said Darby Warner, the executive director of insurance for the Crown corporation.

The corporation is working with Brook and the University of Saskatchewan to collar pigs to track their movements.

Traps have also been set up to capture entire groups, rather than just one pig at a time.

Hunters are allowed to shoot wild pigs without a licence as long as they operate within the regular provincial hunting rules.

But that's not enough to satisfy Ryan Brook.

"There is no strategy in place to deal with them, yet there are some efforts to remove some animals," said Brook.

"Without a strategy and a really specific plan, we can't expect them to be reduced or even eradicated soon."

No sightings 'anywhere near' border: SCIC

The possible expansion of the pigs' population south to the United States is alarming many American and Canadian farmers and environmentalists.

Since there is no program to keep the pigs out of the U.S., and there is no ecological border between the two countries, there is little anyone can do to stop their spread.

Researchers net a wild pig in Saskatchewan. The animal's legs are put in handcuff-like restraints and they are blindfolded while biologists examine and collar them. (Submitted by Ryan Brook)

While Brooke uses words like "explosion" and "massive expansion," the Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corporation takes issue with his description — even though the corporation works with Brook annually to respond to sightings.

"I don't buy into the 'explosive population' that he said," said Warner.

He notes that since 2017, the province has moved 320 animals.

And according to Warner, there have been no wild boar sightings "anywhere near the U.S. border."

"We had one call about a year ago, with six wild boar headed toward the United States," he said.

Warner said the animals turned out to be pot-bellied pigs.

About the Author

Bridget Yard

Reporter

Bridget Yard is a video journalist based in Saskatoon. She has also worked for CBC in Fredericton and Bathurst, N.B.

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