Wild boars may invade RMNP: Researcher

·6 min read

BOARFeral boars are becoming an increasing menace on the Prairies, and one of Canada’s leading hog researchers believes Riding Mountain National Park could see the invasive species soon appear within the borders of the park.

The University of Saskatchewan’s Ryan Brook said wild boars have the potential to transform and devastate the ecosystem of the park.

“We often refer to them as ecological train wrecks, but they’re agricultural train wrecks as well,” Brook said. “They are the worst invasive large mammal on the planet and they are the most successful invasive large mammal on the planet.”

Southwestern Manitoba is no stranger to the invasive species — Spruce Woods Provincial Park has been the epicentre of wild boars for several years and is home to the biggest population of feral pigs in the province.

Brook said the species is spreading from that hot zone very quickly, and sightings have been made on the United States and Spruce Woods borders.

Brook compiled a list of potential areas of risk due to the invasive species, naming Riding Mountain National Park the second most at-risk area in Canada.

The challenge facing Canada Parks staff is that once the pigs get into a vast space like Riding Mountain, they can be incredibly hard to find and remove. The species arrival would be devastating for the local ecology because of the rich biodiversity present in the park.

“Riding Mountain has wolves, coyotes, moose, elk, deer and all of the species that are iconic for Canada,” Brook said. “Pigs put all of that at risk.”

The danger to the Riding Mountain ecosystem would also extend to the agricultural crops surrounding the park.

Pigs will eat crops if they become established to the point where they can live in the park and sneak out at night and eat crops from the surrounding area.

Brook said in the United States, it is estimated US$2.5 billion per year is generated by crop damage due to the pigs.

“The potential for them to cause a lot of harm is already there,” Brook said.

Based on other areas like Australia, which potentially has more than 24 million pigs, and Texas, which has around three million pigs, the habitat of the Prairies has the potential to support millions of animals who population will exponentially increase.

The only real unknown now is how far north the animals will be able to survive, Brook said.

“It’s hard to understate the importance of getting in front of this and dealing with these pigs,” Brook said. “It became very clear, very early that these were going to be a problem ... The Canadian Prairies have lots of agriculture, which provide a huge amount of food to these pigs, which will help them to survive in the winter.”

While there were native pigs in Canada up until 1980, it would have been essentially unheard of to hear of any pig in the wild.

This changed in the 1980s and ‘90s across Canada as producers engaged in wild boar farming and brought in the animals from Europe. The industry peaked in 2001 after the market failed to develop and the need for large shipments of wild boar meat never took off.

On the Prairies, the wild boars in almost all cases were crossed with domestic pigs to create large-bodied animals and bigger litters — this hybrid is what is typically seen in the wild.

The animals were difficult to contain on farms and escaped out in the wild. Brook said this was exacerbated in 2001 when the market collapsed and the pigs were released from farms as well.

“That’s where this all started from, those releases and escapes from farms that sort of started in the ‘80s and ‘90s … but also the flood of the century was a big deal of course in Manitoba,” Brook said.

The Red River flood in 1997 literally floated pigs out of farms, he said, and they were exceedingly good swimmers who were able to thrive during the disaster.

In the early days of wild pigs in Canada, Brook said, Manitoba was by far the most proactive province, taking numerous steps to contain the invasive species. The province employed trapping and trained groups of experts with firearms to remove the boars. The province also declared Manitoba a wild boar control zone.

“Those were very smart and showed really good leadership and effort I think to sort of getting in front of that. There’s a lot of positive to say about Manitoba’s early efforts and certainly, other provinces were probably at least a decade behind,” Brook said.

A Canada-wide approach to containing the invasive species is essential, he said, because right now each province is taking its own approach.

“The reality is that pigs have expanded so quickly and so rapidly out of control in Saskatchewan that this can’t be managed effectively by a province by province basis, there needs to be everybody sort of co-ordinating,” Brook said.

During the research process, he said, an emphasis was placed on crafting a national scale map to recognize that this is a Canada-wide issue.

He compared the spread of feral hogs to that of a wildfire — there is a need to find them quickly and take proactive steps to prevent the spread.

“You need to find it quickly and you need to act immediately and highly aggressively,” Brook said. “Otherwise it gets out of control — time is of the essence.”

He has established a database tracking the occurrence and sighting of wild pigs across Canada.

A Facebook page has been launched where people can share sightings, photos and observations of hogs called The Canadian Wild Pig Research Project. Work on the project is on-going and people are encouraged to join and share information on any feral hogs spotted.

In a statement provided to The Brandon Sun, Parks Canada said Riding Mountain National Park has had no reports of wild boars within the boundaries of the park.

“Their migration into the park is a concern due to the impacts they would have on plants, animals and the landscape of the park, and the risk they pose to visitors. Resource conservation staff are closely watching the situation outside the park boundary as well as the Government of Manitoba’s approach to managing the species on lands adjacent to the park,” reads the statement. “If the species is determined to be a threat to the park, conservation practices and mitigation efforts will be developed in consultation with Indigenous partners, the Government of Manitoba, and local landowners.”

Wild boar sightings in Parks Canada places should be immediately reported to Parks Canada Dispatch at 1-877-852-3100. Sightings across other areas in Manitoba can be reported to a local Manitoba Conservation and Climate office or by email to wildlife@gov.mb.ca

» ckemp@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @The_ChelseaKemp

Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun

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