Wild boars have become enough of a problem in Alberta that it now has a campaign to track them and reduce their numbers. It's called Squeal On Pigs, and it aims to get the public involved in rooting out the destructive swine.
"They are considered to be the most damaging invasive species in North America," Megan Evans, executive director of the Alberta Invasive Species Council, told The Homestretch.
"They'll destroy crops through the rooting behaviour that they do, where they turn over plants to eat the roots and get at bugs. They'll wallow in riparian areas and roll around in the mud and contaminate water bodies. They'll get into stored feed."
The council tracks invasive fish, invertebrates, plants and diseases that have invaded the province, everything from Dutch elm disease to zebra mussels — and wild boar.
Evans said wild boar will hunt livestock and wild animals alike, but their greatest threat is the risk of disease transfer.
"They can host up to 89 different diseases that can be spread to humans, wildlife or livestock," Evans said. "An outbreak of a reportable disease like African swine fever would result in an immediate closure of our pork and beef export. So this could have major consequences, and it's a major risk associated with the growing population of wild boar at large in Alberta."
Evans said wild boar don't have many natural predators in Alberta, having been introduced in the 1980s and 1990s in an effort to diversify agriculture.
"They're a relatively recent introduction, and since then, the animals have escaped their enclosures. They've also in some cases been released, where producers kind of lost interest and were not recognizing the problems they could cause," Evans said.
"So their populations have been growing. And, you know, there's a big lesson to be had here from what's happening down in the States, of course, where wild boar at large were introduced hundreds of years ago and are now a massive problem. So we're trying to get a handle on things now."
Evans said the elusive wild boar, which has the provincial designation of "pest," has been tracked all across Alberta, but central Alberta is a hot spot.
Researchers have created range maps of Alberta that show significant range expansion over the past decades, but it's hard to pin down any exact numbers.
And as they expand, the wild boar are extremely destructive to fields, crops, the natural landscape and the ecosystem.
"They're massive animals. They can be, you know, three, four or 500 pounds," Evans said.
Wild boar have tusks, dark hair and a long snout, as well as a barrel-like body.
"They've been hybridizing with domestic pigs, so you'll see all kinds of variability in their appearance and all types of different genetic makeup with wild boar DNA as well as a domestic pig DNA."
Evans said you are more likely to see signs of a wild boar than to see the animal itself. They are elusive, and researchers now believe that attempts to hunt wild boar will only make the problem worse.
"What happens when you go in and hunt and you remove one or two individuals from a group … the remaining wild boar at large will learn to evade future hunting and trapping efforts," Evans said. "They will become more elusive. They'll avoid humans. They'll go nocturnal and they'll disperse."
Alberta Agriculture and Forestry and the Alberta pork industry are working on a different approach, Evans said.
"They track wild boar at large across the province. They use trail cameras and drones and reports from the public," she said. "They go with these corral traps and they use remote cameras to find out when all of the individuals of the group are inside the trap and then they close the door to remove the entire group. And that has been shown to be effective."
Evans said the Squeal On Pigs campaign may have a silly name, but it's a serious problem that requires public involvement.
There are four ways to report evidence of a wild boar:
Use the EDDMapS app, which is an invasive species tracking and reporting program.
Call your local municipality.
For more information on wild boar or any other other invasive species being tracked in Alberta, go to abinvasives.ca
With files from The Homestretch.