Too many wild boars are roaming Germany, causing considerable damage to farms and forests. Their numbers need to be severely reduced, but German hunters have their own code for proper conduct.
BERLIN — Wild boars are wonderful, at least from a journalistic point of view. In Germany, no other wild animal provides as much material as Sus scrofa, the ancestor of our domestic pig. The regular reports of damage caused by wild boars provide unending newspaper fodder: Chemnitz's inner city terrorized by a group of wild boars, Witzenhausen airport runways torn to pieces, a severe accident on the A5 motorway caused by crossing pigs, and one of Darmstadt's cemeteries vandalized by the snorting beasts looking for flower bulbs.
The rising numbers of wild boar are basically holding farmers, hunters, mayors and police hostage to their own fears of devastation. The damage they cause to agricultural land is immense. They can also wreak havoc on forests by uprooting young trees to eat their roots. They also carry nasty diseases, such as European swine fever, which could decimate the domestic pig population of entire regions.
Hunting statistics offer an inkling about why their growing numbers are a problem. Before World War II, hunters shot 50,000 wild boars annually in the entirety of the German Reich, hunting in an area that was larger by a third than the current Federal Republic. But the number of wild boar shot during 2012 and 2013 within Germany totaled 650,000. This is an enormous number that indicates a massive increase in the wild boar population, and there's no reason to believe the number will decline anytime soon.
Clearly wild boars are problematic and their numbers must be reduced, severely, but the hunters, of all people, are hesitating. Scientists, farmers and foresters alike have called for a severe culling of the boar population, all to no avail. But why?
The Bavarian State Institute for Forestry and Silviculture was keen to find an answer and appointed Niels Hahn to investigate the obstacles to effective wild boar containment in selected areas. Like most experts, Hahn links the explosion of wild boar numbers to a mixture of agricultural methods, climate change and hunting behavior.
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Hunters in Germany — Photo: Tim Dobbelaere
The animals have profited enormously from the change in agricultural plantation and the change in size of area farmed. For example, the area used solely for corn planting has exploded from 50,000 hectare to two million hectare in the space of 50 years.
Longer periods without frost and less snow have also dramatically reduced natural causes of wild boar deaths. There are no natural rivals for food, and even the re-introduction of wolfs has hardly made a dent in the population. Because of climate change, oak and beech trees are producing maximum fruit year after year, providing ample food sources.
Hunters and hunting itself provide the solution to the problem. But they also constitute part of the problem. Hahn's research indicates that hunters seem to have psychological difficulty with drastically reducing the wild boar population.
Traditional hunters understand their function as being one of preserving wildlife by caring for them and actively keeping numbers at a certain level. They fear for the female wild boar and their offspring under their care and believe that more hunting causes the females to breed more excessively and that wild boar should be left to their own devices, so that the population will regulate itself.
Their refusal to adopt new hunting methods, which are taboo or illegal, to control populations is also a problem. Bavarian hunters have experimented with night-vision scopes which, so far, civilians aren't allowed to use. They could make night hunting of these nocturnally active animals much more effective. Certain traps are also supposed to be considered for use by hunters, traps that were in use in the post-war era, when hunters weren't allowed to carry firearms.
But these methods violate the principles of many hunters, who say they aren't "huntsman-like" and that they don't want to be demoted to pest controllers. What they need to realize is that it's their duty to control boar overpopulation and that they shouldn't be governed by an emotional connection to the animals while being blinded to the danger they pose.