Wild Pig Crisis Emerging Across Canada

by Jennifer Smith May 16, 2019

Researchers from the University of Saskatchewan are calling for a plan to eradicate an “emerging crisis” as the most prolific invasive mammal in Canada continues to spread.

A survey released May 10 by researchers from the College of Agriculture and Bioresources said the spread of wild pigs in Canada, and especially in Saskatchewan, has been exponential since their introduction in 1990 — 58 per cent of the expansion between then and 2017 has been in the province.

The species range has expanded by an average of 88,000 square kilometres per year over the last decade. It currently sits at 750,000 square kilometres between British Columbia and Quebec.

Wild pigs are a hybridized species, a mix of domestic swine and the wild boar brought over from Europe in the 1980s and 1990s to diversify agricultural meat production. The pigs were introduced to the landscape as they either escaped or were released into the wild en masse by farmers.

The resulting animal has managed to adapt and thrive.

“We call them a generalist species, which means they can live pretty much anywhere,” said Ruth Aschim, a PhD student who led the research. “For the most part, they can adapt to whatever they’re introduced to and they are omnivores that can eat anything.”

The pigs’ diets can include birds, reptiles and small mammals. They pose a risk for farmers as they feed on all common types of crops.

Wild pigs reproduce year round. Their gestational period is just under four months and piglets reach sexual maturity at four to eight months. Traditionally, they give birth to six piglets at a time, but hybridization has created the potential for larger litters.

Ryan Brook, the lead researcher for nationwide program the Canadian Wild Pig Project, said the province needs to start thinking about pigs and recognizing the rate at which they’re spreading.

“As far as I understand, Saskatchewan does not have a control strategy in place,” he said. “And so in the absence of any kind of plan or strategy, I think all we can expect at this point is to continue that massive expansion of wild pigs and to see the distribution of numbers just continue to go up.”

Aschim said while she stopped active research in 2017, her data could provide a baseline for either future expansion or to show a change if a program is put into place to decrease the pig population.

The first-of-its-kind survey used a trans-disciplinary approach that included conventional monitoring like tracking collars and trail cams combined with speaking with conservation officers, biologists and stakeholders such as farmers, hunters and landowners.

Story re-posted from The Star Phoenix. Written by Amanda Short.

Jennifer Smith
Jennifer Smith