The curious effect of climate change on wild boars.
I can run at speeds of 30 mph. Beware. Photo: GerardM
Last week, unEARTHED reported on a recent study detailing the impact of global warming on endangered species. We’ve also heard of starving polar bears eating each other due to thinning ice, and pika freezing to death as melting snow drifts become too thin to insulate them in the winter. However, swinging the other way in this warming world are wild boars. Spiegel Online tells the tale of a small nation of more than two million wild boars, who are at present traipsing across the German countryside in growing ranks; they increased three-fold last year alone. But is that a good thing?
First, a bit about boars: though they may look fearsome (tusks and all that), wild boars are in fact quite shy, turning aggressive only when provoked. Roaming in groups 20-strong (a group of boars is called a sounder), boars are notoriously clever. They have also been found enthusiastically eating everything from a field of maize to your leftover pizza tossed out in last night’s trash.
Germans generally have a good relationship with their wild boars. German pensioner Günter Kuhla from Spremberg in Brandenburg feeding his unlikely pet, a 160 kilogram wild boar. It wandered onto his farm when it was a piglet and had lost its mother. Credit: Spiegel Online / dba.
In Germany, the boars’ character, intelligence and close association to the country’s famous forests squarely place them near and dear to the nation’s heart. They are also dear to the nation’s stomach. Wild boar meat is considered a delicacy, and in the 2008/2009 hunting season, more than 450,000 boars were killed, with a fair number undoubtedly finding themselves smoked, roasted and sausaged.
So, why is climate change suspected to have had a hand in the increase in wild boars? The warmer, milder winters are leading to higher numbers of boars surviving each year. In addition, the balmy weather has contributed to bumper crops of acorn and chestnuts, a much beloved food source for the boars. More boars + more food = many, many more baby boars.
Now, before you run out to make those “Drive More: Save Boars!” bumper stickers, the dramatic increase of the wild boar population has begun to put strains on their environment. The boars have been coming into conflict with their human neighbors with alarming regularity, invading towns and knocking elderly ladies off their bicycles, chasing armed police, raiding graveyards, and even killing people. They’ve also inflicted considerable damage on agriculture crops—and are potential carriers for a host of unsavory diseases like anthrax and tuberculosis.
The wild boar population explosion has become a complex problem for Germany and other countries; in addition to increased hunting, communities have also resorted to poisoning and chemicals—methods which can result in the unintentional deaths of other wildlife who come upon the poison, contaminated waterbodies when chemicals are carried through rainfall runoff, and more.
Although climate change may not be driving the boars to extinction, reaction to their growing numbers may cause lasting collateral damage to the surrounding environment—human and wildlife.