A new invasive species may have gained a foot-hold in Norfolk County.
Photos of what appear to be at least two wild pigs in the area of Old Highway 24 north of Waterford were recently posted on social media.
The Ministry of Natural Resources is aware of the sighting, which has been noted on the iNaturalist website map tracking the animals across Ontario.
“We encourage the public to use the website to note any sightings of wild pigs,” ministry spokesperson Jolanta Kowalski said this week.
Wild and feral pigs are a problem in North America wherever they present themselves. Populations have been documented in 40-plus American states and four provinces. More than 50 sightings in all have been reported from Windsor to Algonquin Provincial Park in recent years. A wild pig sighting near Dunnville dated 2016 is also noted.
Ryan Brook, an associate professor in the College of Agriculture and Bioresources at the University of Saskatchewan, is also trying to collect as many sightings of wild boars in Canada as he can.
Brook said over the course of a year they receive many hundreds of sightings through Facebook, Twitter, and email from people across the country.
“This is an invasive species that were originally brought to North America for meat production,” said Brook.
The boars were bred with domestic pigs to create a type of “super-pig,” which was helpful for meat production, but makes them an even larger, stronger invasive species. The largest wild boar that Brook and his team have dealt with in Canada weighed in at 289 kilograms (638 pounds).
“They will literally eat almost anything,” said Brook. “They will go into marsh to eat bird eggs and nests; they will take down adult white-tailed deer. They’ll go into fields and eat crops and just destroy them. They use their nose to tear the ground up, so the damage is especially devastating to crops and ecosystems.”
Larry Davis, Norfolk, Haldimand and Brant’s representative to the Ontario Federation of Agriculture, says, “it’s a looming problem.”
Wild and feral pigs are a concern to farmers and conservation officers because – as omnivores – they feed on new growth, crops and young livestock. Their rooting behaviour is highly disruptive to a variety of ecosystems. The animals are also a worry because they carry parasites and diseases that threaten domesticate herds.
Davis doesn’t doubt they can survive the coldest winters southern Ontario has to offer.
“They will survive in the wild,” he said. “When they are born and there is no one to clip their tusks, they become wild boars. They have these razor-sharp tusks that point out from their jaws and they’re deadly. Smart hunting dogs learn to avoid them.”
Brook is not aware of any instances of humans in Canada being seriously injured or killed by wild pigs, but that has been an issue in other countries.
“Here, where we are in Saskatchewan, they are widespread and abundant,” said Brook. “They are currently completely out of control. This is exactly what you don’t want in Ontario.”
Brook mentioned that 30 years ago the sightings were few and far between like they are currently in Ontario. The issues were ignored and spread exponentially across the prairies.
The estimation is that wild pigs currently occupy around 800,000 square kilometres in Canada, and are spreading by 80,000 square kilometres a year.
“If Ontario is really serious right now and finds and removes every sighting of pig I think they can stay wild pig free,” said Brook. “If they don’t take a really aggressive action then they absolutely will become well established.”
There are unconfirmed reports that the wild pigs near Waterford were shot and killed.
What a farmer in Ontario can and can’t do to protect his land from wildlife is complicated.
However, according to the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, farmers can harass and kill wildlife that is damaging their property or has the potential to cause damage. There are many exemptions, exclusions and special exceptions, but no where do these apply to feral or wild pigs according to an OFA Fact Sheet.
To report a sighting to Brook and his team you can post it to the Canadian Wild Pig Research Project Facebook page. The team then reaches out to the proper level of government in the area of the sighting to make sure it is dealt with.
– with files from Ashley Taylor