Elusive and destructive wild pigs are wreaking havoc on parts of the Canadian Prairies, including in Manitoba, and a campaign new to the province is seeking your help tracking the invasive species.
Manitoba Pork partnered with the federal and provincial governments to launch the Squeal on Pigs campaign.
The campaign calls on Manitobans to report sightings and movements of wild pigs on the landscape online or by phone.
“We’re seeing the damage that can happen from these wild pigs,” said Wayne Lees, coordinator of the Manitoba Invasive Swine Eradication Project and a former chief veterinary officer for the province. “They’ve been described as an ecological time bomb and they really are.”
In addition to causing significant damage to Manitoba’s natural environments, they can also significantly impact agricultural operations.
“They’re an invasive species and they’ll eat anything,” Lees said. “They’ll eat eggs from ground-nesting birds, they’ll disrupt the agricultural farmland. They will eat pasture, roots and look for grubs. It looks like a rototiller has gone through it.”
Wild pigs, also known as wild boar, are not a native species to Manitoba. They were introduced to the province in the 1980s as part of an agricultural livestock diversification initiative. Since then, their population has grown through interbreeding with domestic pigs.
Ryan Brook, an associate professor at the University of Saskatchewan, has been researching wild pigs for more than 12 years.
“We have over 60,000 unique occurrences,” Brook said. “That’s over many years but we have over 60,000 unique occurrences of pigs across Canada. The overwhelming majority, indeed, more than 99 per cent of all of those are on the Canadian Prairies.”
He said so far in Manitoba, there have been 6,353 occurrences. An occurrence could be someone seeing one in person or capturing a photo of a wild pig with a trail camera or even a cell phone.
“Many people are very surprised to see there are pigs in Manitoba and didn’t even know they existed but not as many are aware of how destructive they can be and how critically important it is to report so action can be taken to find and remove them,” Brook said.
He said 96 per cent of wild pig occurrences in Manitoba are in an area of southwest Manitoba, in and around Spruce Woods Provincial Park.
“Invasive wild pigs are the worst large invasive mammal on the planet,” Brook said. “You can’t get a worse animal that would be more of a problem, overall. They reproduce very rapidly. They spread extremely quickly across large areas and they do damage to crops.
“I sort of say you should only be worried about wild pigs if you farm, if you live in cities, if you live outside of cities, if you hunt, fish, hike or spend time outdoors. Otherwise, you’re probably okay.”
Brook said one of the biggest risks posed by wild pigs is the threat the animals may spread disease to livestock.
While they can be quite elusive, Brook cautioned wild pigs can also pose a risk to human safety, and not only in the wild. They have been seen in more urban areas in other parts of the world.
“They can be quite dangerous,” he said. “The biggest animal we handled on the Prairies was 638 pounds so that’s just shy of 300 kilos – that’s huge. And they have razor-sharp tusks. So certainly, encourage the public to stay away and if you encounter one get into a vehicle, get into a building, get away from them – they can be aggressive.”
Lees said invasive pigs are hearty and resilient and aren’t known to be targeted by other predators.
“Not only do you have an invasive species but they have no natural enemies so there’s really nothing to keep them in check,” Lees said.
Hunting wild pigs is discouraged.
“Hunting just won’t cut it,” Lees said. “Hunting tends to disperse the pigs and make them much harder to know where they are and to capture and trap them.”
Brook agrees. He has long said sport hunting isn’t part of the solution, it is part of the problem.
“Sport hunting breaks up groups and spreads them around,” Brook said.
Once they’re identified in an area, Brook said one of the most effective ways to deal with wild pigs is to capture them using a net gun from a helicopter and put a GPS collar on them, which he said has led researchers to other pigs.
He said large traps are another option but he stressed there’s no one magic solution.
“My dream in life is to not study wild pigs and go back to studying elk and deer and all the native animals. I have a serious love, hate relationship with this species,” Brook said.
You can report sightings and movements of wild pigs online at squealonpigsmb.org or by calling 1-833-SPOT-PIG (1-833-776-8744).
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