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// Wild boar warnings may be just a pig in a poke
I RECEIVED a press release from the Irish Wildlife Trust objecting to the wild boar being classified as an invasive species in Ireland.
My research threw up surprising results.
There seem to be quite a few of these animals roaming our countryside. There are reports of sightings in half a dozen different counties and some reports are of females with young. This indicates several separate breeding populations. By my estimate, about a dozen animals have been shot since 2009. Again, these occur in widely separated parts of the country. There is a concentration in Co Wicklow, but there are also confirmed shootings in Offaly and Tipperary.
How the animals got to be roaming the countryside is a mystery. There are some in captivity, either as collectors' items or for the production of meat. These could have escaped or been released. But a number of other large herbivores have been turning up as well - animals such as roe and muntjac deer that are not normally kept in captivity. This gives rise to the suspicion that people are doing this deliberately, possibly rifle shooting enthusiasts. It is, of course, completely illegal.
Invasive Species Ireland is a respectable body that operates here and in Northern Ireland and is sponsored by the National Parks and Wildlife Service in the Republic. The National Biodiversity Data Centre is equally respected. Both their websites classify wild boar as an invasive species and both websites are scientifically inaccurate and misleading. On the other hand, the information from the Irish Wildlife Trust is accurate and the references quoted are impeccable.
Both Invasive Species Ireland and the Biodiversity Data Centre state that wild boar became extinct in Ireland in prehistoric times. There are suggestions, which have been picked up by several media outlets, that this occurred around 5,000 years ago. This is nonsense. There was certainly a wild Irish species in medieval times. There is both archaeological and literary evidence.
We don't have a precise extinction date for the species, although there is a story that the event occurred in Kanturk because it's name derives from the Irish for ‘pig's head'. In Britain, the extinction date is between 1,400 and 1,500 AD. The Irish date is likely to be about the same, or even slightly later, because at that time we had more suitable woodland habitat and probably less hunting pressure. These dates are certainly not prehistoric.
The two official sources are also quite alarmist about the threat the species poses to this country. For the past couple of decades there have been hundreds, possibly thousands, of wild boar roaming around the densely populated countryside of south-eastern England and the sky hasn't fallen. Why should things be any different here? Their ecological impact is probably less than eagles or kites, previously extinct raptors which have been legally reintroduced.
In fact, they could have a positive ecological impact. It's accepted that their habit of rooting around in the soil helps the natural regeneration of broadleaved trees. The National Parks and Wildlife Service itself has used Tamworth pigs, a primitive domesticated variety that is genetically very close to the wild boar, as part of its woodland management strategies.
The Irish Wildlife Trust objects to the illegal release of wild boar and accepts the possible dangers this poses. But it argues for a sensible and scientific evaluation of the species in an Irish context, including consultation with farmers, foresters and veterinary experts. This position by a voluntary organisation contrasts favourably with the misinformation being peddled by two respected official bodies.
Oh, and contrary to some of the more lurid reports I unearthed, wild boar do not have razor-sharp tusks.
Read more: http://www.irishexaminer.com/features/wild-boar-warnings-may-be-just-a-pig-in-a-poke-181054.html#ixzz1kdvLHBwa
Monday, January 23, 2012