Wild Boar, Sus scrofa
The wild boar (Sus scrofa) is native across many areas in Central and Northern Europe, Asia, and the Mediterranean Region. Its range was much larger centuries ago, extending into the British Isles, Korea, and many areas of Eurasia. This range is now smaller, due to hunting and captive boars re-entering the wild. Its range now extends to Indonesia, and it has been introduced into Australasia and the Americas, although this is mostly for hunting purposes. Other common names for this species include the wild pig, boar, wild hog, European boar, or razorback in North America. The wild boar appears on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “Least Concern.”
The wild boar holds many subspecies, which vary in appearance and are separated into four groups. These are the Eastern races, Western races, Indian races, and the Sundaic race, which holds only one subspecies. The Eastern group, also known as the leucomystax group, holds six subspecies while the Western group, or scrofa group, holds ten subspecies. The Indian group, or cristatus group, holds three subspecies. Some of the subspecies in these groups include the Castillian wild boar, Italian wild boar, Indian wild boar, Manchurian wild boar, Ryuku wild boar, Siberian wild boar, and the banded pig. Although the domestic pig is typically recognized as a subspecies of the wild boar, some experts recognize it as a distinct species.
The wild boar is a stout animal with short legs and a large head in proportion to its body. Its fur is typically course and can vary in color from brown, to black, to grey, to white. The size of this species also varies, with the largest individuals growing bigger than the Giant forest hog. The average body length of this species is between thirty-five and seventy-nine inches, and a weight between 110 and 200 pounds, although this weight can change drastically depending upon the area of its range. The tail can reach an average length of up to sixteen inches. According to Bergmann’s rule, smaller individuals can be found near the tropics, and Eurasian boars support this, with some sows from southern India and Southeast Asia reaching a weight of only ninety-seven pounds. The Manchurian Wild Boar is the largest of all the subspecies, reaching an average weight between 150 and 400 pounds. One exceptional French individual weighed 550 pounds. It is not uncommon to find individuals weighing up to 661 in Romania and Russia.
Male wild boars grow tusks throughout their lives, which jut out from the upper and lower mouth. These tusks can reach an average length of 2.4 inches. The tusks can be used as tools or as weapons, and the boar will grind the upper and bottom tusks together in order to sharpen them. Females also grow tusks, but these are not visible outside of the mouth.
Although male wild boars are typically solitary, excluding the breeding season, females and young individuals will live in groups known as sounders. These sounders consist of an average of twenty individuals, sometimes as many as fifty, including two or three females or sows, one of which is typically the dominant female. The hierarchy within each sounder varies according to which females are birthing litters, any males that are migrating to the group to mate, and the migration of young males who have reached sexual maturity. The wild boar is typically active during the day or night, depending on its environment and the availability of food. It can be seen foraging and at night, in the afternoon, and in the mornings, and rests mostly during the day.
The mating season for the wild boar occurs in autumn, during which time males will begin to move into the sounders. Males will fight for breeding rights, with the strongest and largest individuals mating the most throughout the season. After a pregnancy of 115 days, a sow will leave her sounder to create a nest using dirt and vegetation, finishing one to three days before giving birth. Each litter contains between four and six piglets, with larger litters averaging up to fourteen piglets. Litters will vary depending upon the area in which the sow lives. Piglets are born weighing between 1.7 and 2.2 pounds at birth. They do not have the same coloring as adult wild boars, having lighter fur and cream to brown colored stripes along the body. After about six months, these stripes will fade into adult coloring. The mother and baby wild boars will return to the sounder after four to five days, where the piglets will nurse from other mothers if available. Weaning occurs at three to four months.
The diet of the wild boar consists of nearly anything edible within the area of boar. It is omnivorous and scavenges berries, fruits, nuts, carrion, refuse, tubers, fallen bird nests, small reptiles, and insects. In Australia, wild boars are known to hunt small deer and lambs.
This species is hunted by many predators, including tigers and wolves. Tigers often hunt the boars by following behind groups, picking off single individuals. They will usually avoid hunting males, because of the sharp tusks that males use to defend themselves. Like tigers, wild boars make up a large portion of the wolf’s diet in places where their ranges overlap. Wolves will typically consume piglets, but have been known to hunt adults in the Iberian Peninsula, Russia, and Italy. In Italy, wild boars have become more aggressive towards both wolves and dogs, and in a few areas of the former Soviet Union, one pack of wolves can consume between fifty to eighty boars in one year.
There are other predators of the wild boar, but these do not hunt the boar as often as tigers or wolves. These include three larger subspecies of the striped hyena from India, Northwest Africa, and the Middle East. Piglets are commonly hunted by boas, birds of prey, large snakes, small cats, and dingos in Australia. Other predators of both young and adult boars include bears, leopards, and crocodiles. It is thought that in areas where the wild boar does not occur natively that it may not be hunted at all, but may be taken by predators similar to those in Eurasia.
Because humans have begun destroying the wild boar’s natural habitat, the number of violent encounters has risen, although it is not common for a boar to attack a human without provocation. When a wild boar becomes aggressive, it may charge at a human but not attack, or it may charge and gore a human with its tusks. The tusks cause the greatest amount of damage, typically to the upper legs of a human. Male boars are more likely to become aggressive during the mating season, and females may attack if they feel as though their piglets are in danger. Boar attacks can occasionally be fatal.
The wild boar appears in many myths, religions, and fictions throughout history. One appears in Norse mythology called Gullinbursti, which means “gold mane” or “golden bristles.” There is one tale that comes from the Forest of Dean in England, which states that a giant boar named The Beast of Dean terrorized people in the nineteenth century. In the comic book series called Asterix, a man named Obelix is known for his voracious diet, which allows him to eat many boars for one meal.
The wild boar, or its head, is often used as symbols or in heraldry. When used as a symbol, such as an image in a coat of arms, the boar often means courage or bravery in battle. Three Roman legions were known to use the boar as an emblem, including Legio XX Valeria Victrix and Legio I Italica, and Richard III chose a white boar as his emblem, which his son Edward inherited. The coat of arms of both the Swinton Family and the Campbell of Possil family displayed the boar. Milan, Italy has also been associated with the wild boar.
During Medieval times, wild boars were considered to be of high quality for hunting, along with the hart. Typically, these were hunted by first sending out a bloodhound to find and follow its trail. A poem entitled Sir Gawain and the Green Knight describes the danger that these bloodhounds faced when hunting the wild boar. Although the wild boar is protected by law in many areas of its range, in areas where law is not enforced it is still hunted.
There are many captive wild boars in the United Kingdom appearing on farms, in private and public collections, and zoos. In order to own wild boars, there are requirements that must be met in order to house them properly. The boar appears on the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976, so a license must be acquired from a local council, after which an inspector will be sent to the living area for the boars. This area must have sufficient protection, like fencing, as well as adequate temperature, ventilation, hygiene, and drainage. Most of the original wild boars found in the U.K. were of French origin, but in recent years, boars are acquired from eastern and western Europe.
Boar farming is common in many countries, specifically to gather wild boar meat. In Italy and France, boar meat can be found in butcher’s shops or in restaurants. Boar meat in Germany is known to be one of the highest priced meats, and in areas of China and Laos, it is thought to be an aphrodisiac. However, in Japan, boar meat has been linked to several cases of Hepatitis E. Boar hair has been used in many products including hairbrushes, toothbrushes, and paintbrushes. Because the hair was soft, it was a popular material for toothbrushes, but it was not hygienic due to bacteria retention, and boar hair has not been used in toothbrushes since the 1930’s.Boar hair is still commonly used in hairbrushes and paintbrushes, providing excellent qualities for both tools. There is a rumor that boar hair is used in high-end dartboards, but this is false.
Wild boars become feral after escaping captivity, and these can be distinguished from domestic pigs by the color and texture of the fur, as well as size. Feral pigs have rougher coats that vary in color from brown to grey, and usually bear a “man” of fur, which has given the wild hog its common name, the razorback. Feral wild boars also have longer legs and more narrow head. Feral pigs can damage trees and other plant life, as well as consume the eggs of turtles and tree-dwelling birds. When feral boras mate with pigs, hybrids are created that cannot easily be distinguished from introduced or natural boars.
Wild boars were introduced into the United States for hunting purposes in the early 20th century. Hybrids between these introduced boars and free roaming pigs are very commonly found. In 2004, a giant hog named “Hogzilla” was shot and killed, creating an internet sensation. After an investigation conducted by National Geographic Explorer, it was found that Hogzilla was indeed a giant hybrid between a domesticate pig and a wild boar. It was estimated in 2008 that the total population of feral pigs was around four million. These pigs cause an estimated 800 million dollar amount of damage each year to properties across the United States. In some areas of the country, like Missouri, the feral pigs are thought of as an invasive species and humans to not require any permits to hunt them. Hunters are advised to shoot any feral pigs seen in these areas on sight, but are also advised to take caution because feral pigs will not hesitate to defend themselves using their sharp tusks.
Wild boars were also introduced into South America for hunting purposes, where they were placed in Uruguay in early 20th century. These moved into Brazil in the 1990’s, and became an invasive species. In 2005, hunting of these boars was allowed with the proper license, but this became illegal by the IBAMA in 2010. Unfortunately, unlicensed farms are becoming a large problem, allowing more pigs to escape due to inadequate living conditions. This has caused hunting to increase, in order to decrease the damages that feral pigs can create. There have always been feral domestic pigs on the border of Brazil, and these are not to be confused with the newly forming populations of feral boars in the area. Peccaries have also resided in this area as a native species, and it is thought that because of the increase in feral pigs, jaguars may hunt the peccary less. Unlike peccaries, hogs reproduce more quickly and more successfully, have up to twenty piglets per year.
By 1980, the year when boar farming first began, there were very few wild boars left in Britain, except for those transported from other areas of the European continent. Boars in this area have been escaping from wild life reserves and farms since the 1970’s, but populations did not increase until the 1990’s. These increases have occurred because boar meat is in high demand, causing a rise in the number of boar farms. In 1998, studies were conducted by DEFRA, the agency formerly known as MAFF, which resulted in the recorded locations of two populations. The populations, located in Dorset and Kent/East Sussex, are thought to be breeding populations, as DEFRA located another population in 2008 in Gloucestershire/Herefordshire. After this discovery, another breeding population was found in Devon. Out of the four recognized populations, the largest occurs in the Kent/East Sussex area, holding about two hundred individuals. It is thought that there may be other smaller populations in other areas in the United Kingdom. Boar populations in Germany are thought to be growing as well.
Image Caption: The Wild Boar (Sus scrofa) is the wild ancestor of the domestic pig. As shown in his natural habitat. Credit: Richard Bartz, Munich/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 2.5)