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In addition to harrassing wildlife and being potential vectors for disease, wild boar at large can cause incredible crop damage. (Photo supplied by Alberta Invasive Species Council)
April 27, 2022 Issues & Insights

Wild pig distribution and eradication on the prairies

When wild boar were first brought to the prairies, experts suggested crossing them with domestic pigs for a bigger, more reproductive animal. Unfortunately, some of the traits that make them great farm animals, also make them a wildly successful invasive pest.

According to Dr. Ryan Brook, wild pig occurrences occupy just over one million square kilometres in Canada, with 99.4 per cent of occurrences on the prairies.

Brook is an Associate Professor at the University of Saskatchewan. He’s been researching wild pigs for over a decade, and calls them “the most successful invasive large mammal on the planet.”

They’re long-lived and they reproduce quickly, with six young per litter on average, he says, with multiple litters per year.

Report wild boar at large in Alberta

And, for such a large animal, they’re incredible elusive.

“The biggest challenge I think we have is wild pigs are out of sight, out of mind. They’re around, they’re widespread, but people are not seeing them,” says Brook. “For a long time it sort of felt like studying Bigfoot or something, because nobody believed they really existed.”

Find interactive maps of wild pigs in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba from the Canadian Wild Pig Research Project Facebook page.

If it looks like a pig

Brook and his team choose to refer to pigs at large as simply ‘wild pigs.’

“Not all animals running around outside in the wild are actually wild boar,” says Brook. “In fact, it would be very rare to see a pig outside of a fence in Canada that’s a true ‘wild boar.'”

That’s partly because many of the hairy pigs in the wild have domestic pig genes. And also because there are free-ranging feral domestic pigs and pot belly pigs.

But the reaction to any pig sighting should be the same — report it (details below).

“If it’s outside of a fence, and it looks like a pig and oinks like a pig, then call that in for sure.”

Damage caused by wild pigs

Wild pigs cause many different kinds of damages, including:

  • Crop damage – Brook suspects crop damages claimed for elk and other species may actually be caused by pigs. Watch for torn-up ground, and identifiable tracks.
  • Livestock harassment – In some cases, livestock harassment goes beyond stress. “Cattle are being pushed away from their water source…to the point where animals are so distressed that the producer actually has to move the watering area and feed somewhere else, because cattle won’t come back,” says Brook.
  • Disease – While we know wild pigs have the potential to vector disease, and threaten the entire pork industry, Brook says “we don’t really have a sense of what’s out there.”
  • Food and water quality – Brook says salmonella and E. coli-based recalls in the U.S. have been linked to wild boar contamination in vegetable crops.

Dr. Ryan Brook joined us in the second segment of Episode 4 of The Bovine. Click the ‘list’ icon on the player above, or skip to 21:26 to hear that interview. (Or better yet, download it and listen to the whole thing, wherever you want!)

Inventing the future

According to Brook, Alberta is at a cross-roads, but there is still the possibility of eradication in the province.

Unfortunately, control measures are complicated. Pigs tend to out-reproduce shooting, and become more nocturnal as they’re hunted, he explains.

“Normally on average, at most you’re seeing 23 percent hunter success. So if there’s a sounder…if hunters try to shoot them, they’ll almost never get them all.”

“While sport hunting has been a great tool for a lot of wildlife management over the last hundred years, it just simply does not work for pigs. And unfortunately, it makes the problem worse. Shooting at groups breaks them up, and it…spreads them across the landscape and makes them that much more elusive and hard to find.”

“As we say, ‘you can not barbecue your way out of a wild pig problem.'”

Brook says the “path forward to success” is through whole-sounder removal.

This is often done through baiting and trapping the whole group.

Another technique Brooks says is very successful is the “Judas pig technique.”

“So you capture a wild pig, put a collar on it and follow it. And nothing finds wild pigs better than a wild pig.”

Brooks says while it hasn’t taken off for any other provinces, there’s hope it will.

‘Let’s Go Outdoors’ covers wild boar at large in Alberta,
including the significance of the problem,
and how whole-sounder trapping works.

Reporting wild pigs in Alberta

If you see signs of wild pigs in Alberta, or damage they may have caused, report them through EDDMaps, by email, online, by calling 310-FARM, or by contacting your local municipality.

Learn more about wild pigs from Alberta Invasive Species Council.

Recent changes in provincial regulations

There have been recent announcements regarding wild pig control measures on the prairies.

Saskatchewan

In March, just ahead of our interview with Dr. Ryan Brook, Saskatchewan announced enhanced measures to control feral pigs, including:

  • The development of regulations for licensing existing commercial wild boar farms and imposting a moratorium on any new farms.
  • The development of regulations under The Pest Control Act to specify monitoring and control efforts and public obligations to report.
  • The doubling of annual funding for the Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corporation (SCIC) Feral Wild Boar Control Program for surveillance and eradication efforts.

Alberta

And following our recording, Alberta announced:

  • Wild boar damage is now included in the Wildlife Damage Compensation Program administered by the Agriculture Financial Services Corporation (AFSC).
  • Expanded surveillance and trapping.
  • Modified bounty programs, including:
    • A Whole Sounder Trapping Incentive Program is running from April 1, 2022 to March 31, 2024, wherein government-approved trappers will be compensated $75 per set of ears per sounder in participating municipalities. Landowners who work with approved trappers will also be eligible for compensation.
    • A Wild Boar at-Large Ear Bounty program is running from April 1, 2022 to March 31, 2022, where hunters who turn in wild boar ears will receive $75 per set in participating municipalities.

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