SWIFT CURRENT, Sask. — A Saskatchewan researcher says the province needs a plan to deal with a burgeoning number of wild pigs.
Ryan Brook said the animals are established in most of the watersheds of southern Saskatchewan and particular hot spots are the Tisdale, Melfort and forest fringe areas.
“Today the total impacts are fairly small but the probability of these populations expanding where we get more wild pigs than people in Saskatchewan, and a billion dollar issue, is in my view a very, very real risk,” he said after a presentation to the Saskatchewan Stock Growers annual meeting.
The wild pigs are a result of escapes and releases from wild boar farms during diversification efforts of the 1980s and 1990s. Brook said some farmers let up to 400 go at a time.
The numbers began to explode after 2000, Brook said, and while the total population is unknown he said they are expanding at a rate of 25,000 sq. kilometres per year across Canada.
Efforts to control them are mainly through hunting.
In the Moose Mountain area of southeastern Saskatchewan several years ago, a truck broke down and 11 pigs escaped. Seven were shot, but four escaped and quickly multiplied into 100.
Brook said by 2017 the area had been cleaned out, but the pigs could move back in.
Control through so-called Judas pigs involves collaring males and tracking them through GPS. Researchers track the animals to find groups of females. They are then hunted, typically in winter, with helicopters and nets.
“They are extremely hard to kill,” Brook said. “It almost seems like they have a bullet-proof vest inside. You need a high-powered rifle to take them down.”
Land owners are allowed to shoot them at any time of year providing they follow firearm regulations.
Some have criticized the idea of letting the males go after they are collared.
“We know there’s thousands of animals out there,” Brook said. “Removing the 34 animals we’ve collared would make no difference.”
Plus, the collars yield data on how the animals move and interact with livestock.
The areas of most concern are the forest fringe where there is a lot of cover, and a mix of wetlands, forest and agricultural crops.
Brook said farmers could expect to see greater crop losses as the populations continue to grow.
Females come into heat at any time of year and piglets are born every month, he said. The average litter is about six, but litters of up to 13 have been reported.
Brook also said the wild pigs are extremely big and hardy because they have crossed with domestic pigs that were released.
He showed a photograph of wild pigs that included what would be considered wild boar, domestic pigs and spotted pigs.
Brook said he has been saying for years that Saskatchewan needs a plan.
“Are we really aiming for eradication? Are we just trying to control and limit impacts? Or are we doing like right now … very little?”
In the United States, the wild pig population has reached millions, so the goal now is to manage them because eradication is impossible.
“I have predicted right from the start that at some point we (in Saskatchewan) will have more wild pigs than people and we’re definitely on track to hit that,” he said.