Wild pigs are on the loose in Ontario, but staff at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) are confident they’re ahead of a wide-scale and potentially devastating invasion.
As part of a pilot project initiated in January, trail cameras were installed at eight locations in southern and eastern Ontario in response to what were determined to be “high-priority” sightings reported by members of the public.
Why it matters: Escaped pigs have proven disastrous to crop farmers in many other jurisdictions, including in Europe, the southern U.S., and Saskatchewan.
“In four of the locations conversations with landowners indicate there may still be wild pigs present,” says MNRF Research Scientist Erin Koen, ”The ministry will continue to monitor these locations to determine whether further action is appropriate.”
“Destructive, clever, and supremely adaptable, invasive wild pigs compete with native wildlife for food and shelter,” says a MNRF release about the ministry’s recent effort to combat the threat in Ontario. Damage to cropland comes in the form of “digging, rooting, trampling, and wallowing” and – particularly troubling as Canada’s swine sector remains hyper-aware about African swine fever – “can also spread diseases to native wildlife and livestock.”
All three types of pigs found in Ontario, originating either as Eurasian wild boar, farmed livestock, or pot-bellied pets, are the same species, and can interbreed.
MNRF has been working with the iNaturalist network of wildlife enthusiasts, as well as the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH), on a coordinated approach to reporting wild pig sightings. Anyone observing a pig on the loose, no matter how benign the spotter thinks it might be, is encouraged to send information – preferably with a photo – to [email protected].
The pilot project aims to provide on-the-ground investigation of what are seen as high-priority sightings. According to Koen, this includes sightings “of wild pigs that appear to be of Eurasian wild boar descent, groups of wild pigs that appear to be reproductive or with young, larger groups of wild pigs, and wild pigs that are known to have survived in the wild for at least one season.”
The ministry’s first step in every case is to determine ownership and hopefully have them returned. But that’s not always possible.
“Once a wild pig population establishes itself and starts reproducing, it can be virtually impossible to eradicate if left unchecked,” Koen noted.
Calling in hunters has proved ineffective in some U.S. states because the pigs simply move to safety in other regions and even hasten reproduction in response to the stress. OFAH has joined MNRF in supporting the strategy now in use in Saskatchewan, known as “whole sounder removal” (“sounder” is the name for a group of wild pigs).
“I can’t tell you how impressed we’ve been with the response we’ve had so far,” Koen said of the ministry’s heightened ability to track wild pig sightings. “Our research simply wouldn’t be possible without Ontario residents.”
At this point numbers in the wild remain very low in Ontario, with almost all sightings of only a single or small number of pigs. The eight locations at which trail cameras were installed saw a total of 19 pig sightings, including Eurasian wild boar, farmed pigs and pot-bellies.
The ultimate response, if survival in the wild is determined, will be “trapping and removal.”
Also as part of the MNRF’s wild pig prevention strategy, draft regulations are currently up for public consultation with the Environmental Registry of Ontario, bringing wild pigs into the Invasive Species Act. This would make it illegal to release a pig in Ontario, prohibit hunting of wild pigs, and give MNRF the authority to capture and remove.