Animal experts with the Ontario government are asking the public to help track down the number and location of wild pigs, among the concerns they will decide about agricultural crops and damage sensitive wetlands.
A wild pig is the term used to describe the hybrid offspring of domestic pigs and imported Eurasian wild boar.
Wild boars were imported to Ontario in the 80s and 90s to diversify livestock production, but some fled agricultural operations. This is what the domestic pigs have, which for generations have become wild.
Experts say that wild boar can reach a weight of 100 kilograms. Since last autumn, when the Ontario Ministry of Natural and Forestry Resources (MNRF) formally collected sighting reports, 28 were recorded, two of which were in eastern Ontario.
Last November, someone reported seeing a wild pig in Lefaivre, Ontario, now an east of Ottawa. Then in May, a camera mounted on a path in the Plantagenet district, about 70 kilometers south-east of the city, captured a photograph of the animal.
"Wild piglets are real wrecks," said Ruth Aschim, a doctoral student at the University of Saskatchewan who researched animals.
According to a study conducted by Aschim and recently published in Scientific reports on nature, There has been a rapid expansion in the range of both wild boar and its hybrid offspring – including in Ontario, where their range has increased by nine percent every year since the boars were introduced.
The Ontario scientists have no idea how many wild pigs there are, which is why the province turned to the public for help.
"This is the real question now," said Erin Koen, an MNRF research scientist in Peterborough, Ontario.
"We are at the beginning, but having the public with eyes on the ground is really important for us to get an estimate and find out where they are".
Despite the lack of population data, Koen argues that their numbers are growing due to the high reproduction rate of pigs, which can give birth when they are as young as six months old.
"A female wild pig can be the source of 100 offspring in just two years," he said. "It doesn't take long for a pig to have a lot of pigs."
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"They are the eating habits of animals that pose the greatest threat," said Koen.
"They are very destructive because they like to eat whatever we grow, so if they entered the cornfield, they would destroy the crop," he said.
It is something that is happening on a large scale in the southern United States and the Canadian prairies, he added.
Pigs also trample the sensitive habitat by rooting the soil for plants, small reptiles and amphibians.
"They destroy the wetland and this disturbs the area for the other native species that depend on it, plants and animals alike." Koen said.
Once established, wild boars are difficult to eradicate because they have few natural predators. They are also both nocturnal and intelligent, Koen said, which means they are good at avoiding human contact.
Koen said it was premature for the government to draw up a population control plan without first having a better idea of the number of boars.
He said it will be up to the province to decide if he wants to use the control measures. Other jurisdictions have relied on ground traps and controlled fighters, which Koen said have not been very successful.