Are Wild Boar Roaming Ireland’s Forests?

Is there any truth in last week’s story that wild boar are making a comeback in Irish forests?

Feral pig & piglets (Photo: Craig O'Neal/Mindseye via cc license from Flickr)

Feral pig & piglets
(Photo: Craig O’Neal/Mindseye via cc license from Flickr)

“Wild Boar Strikes Fear into the Hearts of Walkers” roared the headline in the Irish Independent last week. The story that accompanied this sensational statement claimed that wild boar are making a comeback in Irish forests, and suggested that they are a danger to walkers and children. Alarming stuff, but if they paid more attention to coverage of “boar” sightings over the past two years they might not have got so carried away.

In May of 2013, the Irish Times reported that the so-called “wild boar” killed in Ireland over the past few years are actually feral pigs. Are they big and bulky? Yes. Are they dangerous? Of course — in the way that any large animal with teeth can be. However, it’s not like they stalk humans as prey. Ireland’s small wild pig population is not genetically wild boar as encountered in Europe. According to the fossil record, Ireland never had wild boar before humans brought pigs to the country. Once they were brought over, however, they entered Gaelic mythology with warriors bravely hunting them down, and the boar very occasionally getting the upper hand. (They also loom large in modern-day fantasy like Game of Thrones, where hedonistic King Robert Baratheon meets his end skewered on a wild boar’s tusk.)

Though “wild boar” were erroneously classified as an invasive species in Ireland in 2011, these are actually wild pigs that have escaped from farms and breed unchecked. Boar have long been extirpated on the island. Hunters and wildlife rangers kill the feral pigs when they come across them (as they can spread disease among livestock), but their overall numbers seem moderate. I still wouldn’t want to go head to head with one on a dark night — full-grown pigs, especially sows protecting piglets, can be dangerous. But the suggestion that our forests and woods are unsafe appears to be overkill.

 

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