The Problematic Expansion of Wild Boar

By José Luis Gallego, environmental communicator (@ecogallego)

Admired by some, detested by others, the wild boar (Sus scrofa) is one of the best-known mammals to populate our rural areas. Although wild boar are hunted extensively, the species has experienced a spectacular demographic boom in recent years, resulting in abundant, in some cases even excessive, populations in most parts of Spain.

 

The appearance of the wild boar is distinctive and instantly recognizable to most. Physically the animal resembles its domestic counterpart, but its features are slimmer, different from those of any other wild mammal that inhabits our forests.

 

 

Un ejemplar de jabalí en el bosque otoñal.

A wild boar in the forest in autumn

 

 

The wild boar has a narrow yet stocky frame and stands quite tall despite its remarkably short legs and slender feet. Its head is large with a long, somewhat flattened snout. It has a grey-brown or dark grey coat with black around the feet. The fur is coarse and very tough, consisting of short, hard bristles. The ears are large, upright, and hairy; the eyes are small. The male boar has much larger tusks than the female: they protrude from the corners of the mouth like curved blades and can reach 20 cm in length.

 

Young boar are usually a light chestnut brown with cream-coloured horizontal stripes. They're called piglets but are sometimes referred to as humbugs. Spain has the smallest wild boar in Europe with significant differences in size depending on their habitat. This makes it difficult to establish a common taxonomy, but generally speaking, boar can reach a length of two metres, stand almost a metre tall, and weigh up to 150 kilos. Males are much larger than females.

 

The small eyes of the boar indicate poor vision, which the animal more than makes up for with its keen sense of smell and excellent hearing. By lifting its snout and sniffing the surroundings, a wild boar can detect our presence in the woods long before they can see us. This is why we so rarely stumble across wild boar despite their high numbers.

 

The best way of spotting the presence of these generally shy and elusive animals is to learn how to read the traces they leave behind. This includes their famous wallowing holes: muddy areas where the pigs roll about to remove parasites, a behaviour that can destroy wide swaths of cropland.

 

Wild boar live in woodlands across the Iberian peninsula, from coastal areas to the mountains, and prefer those with abundant undergrowth and plenty of streams and pools. At night, they feel safe enough to venture out into farmland.

 

 

Un jabalí en el campo nevado, en su hocico tiene restos de nieve.

A wild boar in a snowy field with bits of snow on its snout

 

 

They're particularly fond of cornfields and their furrows, as well as vineyards, especially in the weeks leading up to the harvest (they're mad about grapes). This means that their high numbers have become a serious problem for winegrowers.

 

Why are wild boar drawn to farmland? It's simple. The soil here is fluffy and generally damp, ideal conditions to take a parasite-cleansing mud bath and comply with their peculiar yet highly effective idea of hygiene.

 

In terms of food, wild boars are the great omnivores of the woods. They forage the forest floor for wild fruits and berries, acorns, nuts, chestnuts, mushrooms, tubers, and roots, digging through dry leaves with their powerful snout. In cropland, they seek out fruit that has fallen to the ground or is within easy reach, as well as all kinds of vegetables and even grains.

 

They also prey on insects, reptiles, worms, and small rodents. If necessary, wild boar will feed on carrion or hunt down defenceless, wounded, or dying animals. Female boar give birth to a litter of one to six young per year, preferably between February and April.

 

As previously mentioned, the rise in wild boar populations is turning this great opportunist – that has taken full advantage of rural flight to expand its home range – into one of the primary foes of farmers and stockbreeders. (When boar enter a farm, they can cause significant damage.) Boar can even present a serious road hazard.

 

 

Dos jabalís andando por el bosque.

A pair of wild boar walking in the woods

 

 

In many parts of Spain – especially Catalonia, Navarra, and the Basque Country – collisions with wild boar have become one of the main causes of traffic accidents, resulting in thousands of crashes every year that cause hundreds of serious injuries and even deaths, especially in the case of motorcyclists.

 

These are serious problems with no easy solution, making our co-existence with the species more than a little challenging.

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