RED DEER — There is an undeclared war against feral hogs in Alberta.
“When they are contained on a farm and they abide by the fencing standards, they are considered livestock. Once they are at large they are legislated as pests. They have the same designation as a rat,” said Perry Abramenko of Alberta Agriculture.
Population numbers are uncertain but based on reported sightings and damage, provincial officials know they are increasing in areas north of Calgary, he said at the Red Deer swine technology workshop held Oct. 23.
A three-year project is underway to trap and kill them in specially designed round corrals baited with road kill. The hogs are then removed and sent to a provincial laboratory to be tested for diseases, parasites, diet and other features. Resulting information is used for research.
Feral pigs can be reservoirs of disease.
“Wherever African swine fever has occurred it has become entrenched in the wild pig population,” Abramenko said.
Wild boar origins in Alberta trace back to government livestock diversification programs in the 1980s and 90s.
“Some of those species that came were wild boar. There were no fencing standards to keep the animals contained and the boars escaped,” he said.
They were not considered a risk even though they evolved in a cold climate. Others were originally found in Texas and Florida and spread from there.
The males have large curving, prominent tusks. When they open and close their mouths, the tusks sharpen. They live in groups of six to 30 called sounders.
The wild pigs can survive any type of ecology and they eat anything organic.
They prefer living in a forest bordering crop land. They eat crops and stored feeds.
“A lot of producers when they get damage to stored feed, might attribute that damage to other wild ungulates. It could be wild boar,” he said.
Producers need to learn to recognize the scat and the hoof prints from deer or elk.
Wild boars root and wallow. They destroy crops, feed stacks and water courses where the damage is pronounced.
“It looks like somebody went through with a roto tiller,” Abramenko said.
“That damage will be there for years.”
Hunting does not control them. They are nocturnal and they will move on when people come after them.
A former bounty program provided some data on their whereabouts but they were not eradicated.
More recently drones have been used to track them, especially in winter. If an area has been cleaned out, specially trained dogs come in later to make sure the pigs are gone.
Some counties have declared them a prohibited species.
“If they don’t have farms, it is a proactive measure that they are taking,” Abramenko said.
Alberta has 13 wild boar farms that are inspected annually to make sure none escape.
In Alberta, conflicts with wild boar can be reported toll free to 310 FARM.