Ontario government and conservation officials hope to marshal the help of hunters, anglers and naturalists this spring in the hunt for an elusive and tenacious invasive species that's as much of a threat to farms as it is to the province's wild ecosystems.
Wild pigs are often big, wily and bad-tempered. With no natural predators in Ontario, officials are hoping to stop the species from establishing a breeding population before the province literally goes to the hogs.
"Anywhere you look and see wild pigs become established, you see a whole host of negative impacts," said Keith Munro, a wildlife biologist for the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH), which is trying to raise awareness about wild pigs.
The animals have become established in the Canadian Prairies and the Southern United States, where they've been known to squeeze out wildlife, pick farm fields clean and, in 2019, killed a Texas woman in the driveway of a home.
Wild pigs highly destructive, dangerous
It's believed they cause hundreds of millions of dollars in damage each year in farm operations in the United States, and Munro said the animals can also spread disease among livestock, wildlife and humans.
"You see huge impact on agricultural industries, and that could be crop damage, it could be livestock predation, it could also be damage to things such as fencing and irrigation systems.
"They'll destroy plant communities, they'll rip up aquatic areas, and then they'll compete with and feed on native wildlife.
Based on the reports MNRF has received thus far, it's likely that there are small numbers of wild pigs scattered across southern, central and eastern Ontario.
- Jolanta Kowalski, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
Ontario averages three to four wild pig sightings a week in the spring, summer and fall, and two to three a week in the winter, according to the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF).
"Based on the reports MNRF has received thus far, it's likely that there are small numbers of wild pigs scattered across southern, central and eastern Ontario," MNRF spokesperson Jolanta Kowalski said in an email to CBC News.
"The majority of wild pig sightings appear to be recently escaped livestock, including domestic pigs, pot bellied pigs and farmed Eurasian wild boar."
The sightings, according to the province's latest report on wild pigs, are everywhere from Windsor to Tobermory, through the outskirts of the Greater Toronto Area and east into eastern Ontario.
While the reports might be widespread, Munro said it's believed the notoriously tenacious species has yet to establish a breeding population in Ontario.
Pigs in the wild normally travel in large groups, he said, with a number of adults and up to six young per sow. In Ontario, most of the reports have been one or two pigs and no signs of any young.
"We don't have any established populations. What we appear to have is scattered groups of single pigs or a couple of pigs kind of all across southern and eastern Ontario, with the most likely source being farm escapes.
"This is a new potential problem for Ontario," he said. "Really, getting wild pigs is a bad situation you really want to avoid."
Wild pig protocol introduced this spring
To help make that happen, the OFAH has started taking reports of wild pigs on its invasive species hotline in the last month, and introduced a wild pig protocol this spring to help people identify, track and report wild pigs to the proper authorities.
The protocol includes detailed instructions on how to document wild pig activity with trail cameras, and even gives volunteers an opportunity to borrow trail cameras from the OFAH to help root the animals out.
"We pass all of these wild pig reports onto the Ministry of Natural Resources," said Munro.
Wildlife officials with the MNRF will then use the information to find and capture the pigs using traps, so the animals can be removed before they cause any more damage.
It's why Munro stresses the importance of documenting and reporting any and all wild pig sightings.
"The best way to think of it is like a fire — you want to deal with the sparks when they pop up before it becomes something bigger."