When Wild Boars Run Amok, But Hunters Refuse To Slaughter

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.

No need to run
No need to run
Eckhard Fuhr

BERLIN â€" 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.

The resistance

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.

Hunters in Germany â€" 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.

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Where Lockdowns For LGBTQ Meant Moving Back In With Homophobic Relatives

The confinement experience could turn brutal for those forced to live with relatives who would not tolerate a member of the family living their sexual orientation openly as a young adult. Here are stories from urban and rural India.

At a Rainbow pride walk in Kolkata, India

Sreemanti Sengupta

Abhijith had been working as a radio jockey in the southern Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, 2020. When the government imposed a nationwide lockdown, Abhijith returned to the rural Pathanamthitta district , where his parents live with an extended family, including uncles, cousins and grandparents.

Eighteen months later, he recalled that the experience was "unbearable" because he had to live with homophobic relatives. "Apart from the frequent reference to my sexual 'abnormality', they took me to a guruji to 'cure' me," Abhijith recalled. "He gave me something to eat, which made me throw up. The guru assured me that I was throwing up whatever 'demon' was possessing me and 'making' me gay."

Early in 2021, Abhijith travelled back to Thiruvananthapuram, where he found support from the members of the queer collective.

Inspired by their work, he also decided to work towards uplifting the queer community. "I wish no one else goes through the mental trauma I have endured," said Abhijit.

Abhijith's story of mental distress arising from family abuse turns out to be all too common among members of India's LGBTQ+ community, many of whom were trapped in their homes and removed from peer support groups during the pandemic.

Oppressive home situations

As India continues to reel from a pandemic that has claimed more lives (235,524) in three months of the second wave (April-June 2021) than in the one year before that (162,960 deaths in March 2020-March 2021), the LGBTQ community has faced myriad problems. Sexual minorities have historically suffered from mainstream prejudice and the pandemic has aggravated socio-economic inequalities, instigated family and institutionalized abuse, apart from limiting access to essential care. This has resulted in acute mental distress which has overwhelmed queer support infrastructure across the country.

Speaking to queer collective representatives across India, I learned that the heightened levels of distress in the community was due to longstanding factors that were triggered under lockdown conditions. Family members who are intolerant of marginalized sexual identities, often tagging their orientation as a "disorder" or "just a phase", have always featured among the main perpetrators of subtle and overt forms of violence towards queer, trans and homosexual people.

Calls from lesbians and trans men to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns.

Sappho For Equality, a Kolkata-based feminist organization that works for the rights of sexually marginalized women and trans men, recorded a similar trend. Early in the first wave, the organization realized that the existing helpline number was getting overwhelmed with distress calls. It added a second helpline number. The comparative figures indicate a 13-fold jump in numbers: from 290 calls in April 2019-March 20 to 3,940 calls in April 2020-May 2021.

"Most of the calls we have been getting from lesbians and trans men are urgent appeals to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns," said Shreosi, a Sappho member and peer support provider. "If they happen to resist, they are either evicted or forced to flee home. But where to house them? There aren't so many shelters, and ours is at full capacity."

Shreosi says that the nature of distress calls has also changed. "Earlier people would call in for long-term help, such as professional mental health support. But during the pandemic, it has changed to immediate requests to rescue from oppressive home situations. Often, they will speak in whispers so that the parents can't hear."

Lack of spaces

Like many of his fellow queer community members, life for Sumit P., a 30-year-old gay man from Mumbai, has taken a turn for the worse. The lockdown has led to the loss of safe spaces and prolonged residence at home.

"It has been a really difficult time since the beginning of the lockdown. I am suffering from a lot of mental stress since I cannot freely express myself at home. Even while making a call, I have to check my surroundings to see if anybody is there. If I try to go out, my family demands an explanation. I feel suffocated," he said.

The pandemic has forced some queer people to come out

Sumit is also dealing with a risk that has hit the community harder than others – unemployment and income shortage. He's opened a cafe with two other queer friends, which is now running into losses. For others, pandemic-induced job losses have forced queer persons from all over the country to return to their home states and move in with their families who've turned abusive during this long period of confinement.

Lockdowns force coming out

According to Kolkata-based physician, filmmaker and gay rights activist Tirthankar Guha Thakurata, the pandemic has forced some queer people to come out, succumbing to rising discomfort and pressure exerted by homophobic families.

"In most cases, family relations sour when a person reveals their identity. But many do not flee home. They find a breathing space or 'space out' in their workspaces. In the absence of these spaces, mental problems rose significantly," he said.

Not being able to express themselves freely in front of parents who are hostile, intolerant and often address transgender persons by their deadname or misgender them has created situations of severe distress, suicidal thoughts and self-harm.

Psychiatrist and queer feminist activist Ranjita Biswas (she/they) cites an incident. A gender-nonconforming person died under suspicious circumstances just days after leaving their peer group and going home to their birth parents. The final rites were performed with them dressed in bangles and a saree.

"When a member of our community asked their mother why she chose a saree for someone who had worn androgynous clothes all their life, she plainly said it was natural because after all, the deceased 'was her daughter,'" Biswas recalls.

The Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling

David Talukdar/ZUMA

"Correctional" therapy

In India, queer people's access to professional mental healthcare has been "very limited," according to community members such as Ankan Biswas, India's first transgender lawyer who has been working with the Human Rights Law Network in West Bengal.

"A large majority of the psychiatrists still consider homosexuality as a disorder and practice 'correctional therapy'. It's only around the big cities that some queer-friendly psychiatrists can be found," Biswas said. "The pandemic has further widened the inequalities in access to mental health support for India's LGBTQ community."

Biswas is spending anxious days fielding an overwhelming amount of calls and rescue requests from queer members trapped in their homes, undergoing mental, verbal and even physical torture. "We don't have the space, I just tell them to wait and bear it a little longer," he said.

Medical care is dismal

Anuradha Krishnan's story, though not involving birth family, outlines how the lack of physical support spaces have affected India's queer population. Abandoned by her birth family when she came out to them as a trans woman in 2017, Anuradha Krishnan (she/they), founder of Queerythm in Kerala who is studying dentistry, had to move into an accommodation with four other persons.

Isolation triggered my depression

"I am used to talking and hanging around with friends. Isolation triggered my depression and I had to seek psychiatric help." Living in cramped quarters did not help with quarantine requirements and all of them tested positive during the first wave.

What is deeply worrying is that the Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling, placing more and more pressure on queer collectives and peer support groups whose resources are wearing thin.

During the 10 months of the first wave of the pandemic in India in 2020, Y'all, a queer collective based in Manipur, received about 1,000 distress calls on their helpline number from LGBTQ+ individuals. In May 2021 alone, they received 450 such calls (including texts and WhatsApp messages) indicating a telling escalation in the number of queer people seeking help during the second wave.

As India's queer-friendly mental health support infrastructure continues to be tested, Y'all founder, Sadam Hanjabam, a gay man, says, "Honestly, we are struggling to handle such a large number of calls, it is so overwhelming. We are also dealing with our own anxieties. We are burning out."

Sreemanti Sengupta is a freelance writer, poet, and media studies lecturer based in Kolkata.

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