It’s not hogwash that wild pigs are on the province’s radar.
Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) has set up a hotline for reporting where wild pigs, and boars, are being seen to get a better handle on their territory, and numbers.
Bree Walpole, biologist and senior policy advisor with the ministry, said the MNRF started to hear about wild pigs on the landscape in the summer of 2018, and they present a unique challenge.
Wild pigs aren’t native to Ontario, but they do prey upon native plants and wildlife – competing with the latter for food, water and space, the ministry says. They can also spread disease to livestock, pets and humans, damage crops and pastureland, says the MNRF, by rooting and digging into the ground with their snouts and tusks.
“There are a few things that have made them so invasive in other jurisdictions,” Walpole said, mentioning Saskatchewan. “They have a really large reproductive capacity, so they can create a lot of offspring in a really small amount of time. They also are habitat generalists, so they can live in all different types of areas – forested, agricultural landscapes. And they can travel long distances, which really helps them to disperse to new areas, quickly.
“They prey on just about anything – have very general eating habits so they will eat crops, hay and corn in fields, natural foods on the landscape like seeds and acorns, nuts, worms, salamanders, reptiles, eggs from ground-nesting birds…so they can really thrive well in a number of different types of habitat,” she said.
There are wild pigs in Simcoe County’s rural areas, but the ministry is unsure which way the numbers are heading – although this tracking or ‘citizen science’ project is expected to help.
The MNRF says the term ‘wild pig’ means any pig outside a fence and includes domestic pigs that have become wild or feral, and ownership can’t be determined, Eurasian wild boar or hybrids of the two – although the ministry says it can be difficult to visually distinguish between the three.
In Ontario wild boar are imported and raised for meat as alternative livestock, as are domestic pigs. Both occasionally escape, and domestic pigs have been known to look more like their wild boar ancestors when living in the wild and can breed with other escaped pigs, including wild boar, to create hybrids.
The ministry says they can weigh from 30 to 420 pounds.
Walpole said the ministry doesn’t have any reports of wild pigs attacking humans in Ontario, but the MNRF says they have been aggressive with humans and pets elsewhere. She said people should watch for signs of wild pigs, such as tracks and rooting activity, remove food sources from around the home and watch pets.
“There is that potential…so the advice is similar to what humans should do with all wild animals, like bears,” she said. “When outdoors, scan your surroundings and be aware.”
Wild pigs, like their domestic relatives, are also smart. When they feel threatened by humans, they can change their behaviour and become increasingly elusive – shifting their daily routines, becoming more active at night and at dusk, and spending daylight hours in areas of dense vegetation providing cover.
“Lots of people are surprised when they hear that wild pigs can survive a Canadian winter,” Walpole said. “Pigs are very adaptable, so they can grow woolly underfur. They’re adept at finding shelter to protect them from the extreme cold. Often you’ll find them hunkered down in sheltered areas and they even bed down in the area between the ground and the snow cover.”
Domestic pigs originated from wild boar thousands of years ago, and it’s because of this ancestry that escaped farmed domestic pigs can resemble their wild boar ancestors when they become feral. Within a matter of months, domestic pigs in the wild can grow a dense undercoat to help them survive winters – and pigs born in the wild can even have tusks.
Wild boar can be considered ‘wild’ by nature, the MNRF says. If the ministry cannot identify who owns the animal, wild boar can be hunted under the authority on an Ontario Small Game Hunting Licence.
Private landowners do have the right to protect their property from damage caused by wildlife, including wild boar. The MNRF says all relevant federal, provincial and municipal laws regarding the discharge of firearms and firearm licensing requirements also apply.
The MNRF is asking people to report wild pig sightings, which can play a critical role in understanding the locations and number of wild pigs in Ontario. Sightings can be reported at www.//inaturalist.org/projects/ontario-wild-pig-reporting or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Part of what we are trying to do is get the word out, that we are looking for sightings,” Walpole said.” At this time of year, there are a lot of hunters who are out on the landscape. So we’re hopeful that we will learn more and receive more sightings.”
images via Ministry of Natural Resources