Feral pigs, wild boar pose African swine fever threat

Pigs do great in Canada.

The problem is, it’s not just pigs in barns that do great.

“They don’t just survive up here, they thrive,” Red Deer swine veterinarian Egan Brockhoff said about wild pigs, of which there are many in Canada.

Across North America there are millions.

Wild pigs and wild boars — two different animals — are being watched by an increasingly anxious North American hog industry, which fears they could become a way for African swine fever to spread through the continent and become a permanent reservoir for the disease.

ASF is not now known to be in North America, but with the disease spreading from China to the English Channel, many think the chance of it arriving is far from remote.

Wild pig and wild boar populations have been fingered as culprits in the arrival and spread of ASF in some places in Europe. The disease has been found in wild boars in many places in Poland.

France has found ASF in wild pigs.

Brockhoff said wild pig management and minimization is difficult. Videos of riflemen shooting wild pigs from helicopters in Texas might look exciting and impressive, but it probably doesn’t provide much real control.

“Hunting just tends to spread them around,” said Brockhoff.

Hunters might manage to hit one or two wild pigs in a herd, but the rest can scatter in all four directions and bring themselves and any disease they carry into four new herds.

It is also unclear in most areas who is supposed to clean up the wild pig problem.

“We’re struggling to decide whose problem it is,” he said.

Both wild pigs and wild boars have arisen from once-farmed pigs and boars that either escaped or were released by farmers. They are tough enough to survive in the northern environment.

Fortunately, Canada’s wild pigs are not major carriers of disease.

“Right now we have high health wild pigs,” said Brockhoff.

“We want to keep it that way.”

Canadian Pork Council executive director John Ross said Canada has been slow to address the wild pig problem, but ASF has brought new urgency to facing it.

Manitoba Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler said the province is taking the issue seriously.

“The risk wild pigs pose to the commercial sector is extremely significant.”

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