By James Hale;
Wild boar (Sus scrofa) are the wild ancestors of the domestic pig and feral hogs, both animals with which they freely hybridize. Wild boar are native across much of Europe, the Mediterranean Region, North Africa’s Atlas Mountains, most of Asia, Japan and Indonesia. Populations have been introduced as a big game animal for hunting in some parts of the world, including the Americas and Australia. In the 1700’s Spanish and Russian settlers introduced domestic pigs to California and many became feral populations. They are now found in all 58 California counties. Wild boar were first introduced into California by George Gordon Moore. He obtained a dozen animals from Hoopers Bald, North Carolina, from Ural Mountain Russian stock, and introduced them into Carmel Valley at the San Francisquito Ranch. Two dozen more were released in Las Padres National Forest some eight years later. These true wild boar individuals have increased their range, interbred with feral hogs and have been relocated throughout the state. Wild boar are the most popular hunted big game animal in California. Some 6 million wild boar inhabit at least 39 states in North America. Other populations have become established after escapes of wild boar from captivity and hunting enclosures. In the East Bay, they’re found all around Mount Diablo, through Morgan Territory Preserve and the Sunol Wilderness as well as other open spaces in central Contra Costa County.
Wild boar are one of the most ferocious animals. When a boar is wounded, with young or cornered, it can become very dangerous. Wild boar do not have good eyesight, however their hearing and sense of smell are acute and they will know of your presence long before you will know of theirs.
Great regional differences exist with respect to the size, shape, color and other characteristics of the wild boar. In general, the body is compact, the head is large, the legs short and the pelage consists of stiff bristles underlined with a usually finer fur. Wild boar are typically dark grey to black or brown, however whitish to silver animals are known from Russia and central Asia. Adult boars can measure over 80 inches in length, not counting a rope- like tail up to 16 inches, and have a shoulder height of over 45 inches. Large wild boars of 450 to over 500 pounds are not uncommon. Romanian and Russian boars over 700 pounds have been confirmed. Adult male boars develop continuously growing tusks, or upper and lower canines, which serve as weapons and tools. The upper tusks are bent upwards in males and are constantly sharpening the lower ones to produce near razor sharp edges. The tusks often exceed 6 inches in length and may exceed 9 inches in huge males. Wild boar piglets have marbled chocolate and cream stripes lengthwise over their bodies. At 6 months the stripes begin to fade as the piglets take on the adult’s coloration. The chief enemy of wild boar are humans, although mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats and golden eagles take a few young and subadults.
Adult male wild boar are usually solitary, while females and their offspring live in groups called sounders with numbers varying from 15 to over 50 individuals. Depending on environmental and nutritional factors, puberty for sows ranges from 8 to 24 months, with pregnancy lasting approximately 115 days. Before birth (farrowing), the sow will construct a mound-like nest out of vegetation and dirt.
Wild boar and feral hogs can rapidly increase their population. Sows can have up to twelve offspring per litter, although litter size is typically 4 to 6 piglets. Sows are able to have two litters per year. Each piglet reaches maturity at six months of age. Wild boar bristles have been highly prized in the manufacture of paintbrushes because the naturally flagged bristle tips hold and disperse paint extremely well. Wild boar meat is sought after worldwide for human consumption and wild boar farming is becoming more popular.
Piglets weigh 1 to over 2 pounds at birth, and rooting behavior, digging in the earth for food, begins as early as the first few days of life. Wild boar piglets begin to eat solid foods such as worms and grubs after about two weeks. They are fully weaned after three to four months. Wild boar are omnivores, consuming almost anything, including green vegetation, roots, tubers, fruit, crayfish, frogs, salamanders, eggs, fledgling birds, rabbits, newborn fawns and carrion. In the fall, acorns, walnuts and pecans become their staple diet. The os narialis, a sensitive and flexible cartilaginous disk at the tip of the snout, helps the boar to locate food in the soil when rooting with their tusks. Captive wild boar are trained to “sniff out” truffles, an expensive fungal delicacy that grows underground. Wild boar rooting can be beneficial to some species while having negative effects on other plants and animals.
In Medieval hunting the wild boar, like the hart (stag), was a beast of venery, the most prestigious form of quarry. Ulysses hunted the wild boar of Mount Parnassus. Hercules’ fourth labor was to capture the wild boar of Mount Erymanthus alive. In Europe the wild boar and a boar’s head are common charges in heraldry. They represent what are often seen as positive qualities of the boar, namely courage and fierceness in battle. The ancient Lowland Scottish Clan Swinton is said to have acquired the name Swinton for their bravery and clearing their area of wild boar. The chief’s coat of arms and the clan crest allude to this legend, as is the name of the village of Swinewood in the county of Berwick, which was granted to them in the 11th century. In Germany in the seventeenth century a prince is reported to have killed 30,000 wild boar over a period of 40 years. In Celtic mythology the boar was sacred to the goddess Arduinna, and boar hunting features in several stories of Celtic and Irish mythology. Gullinbursti (meaning “Gold Mane” or “Golden Bristle”) is a boar in Norse mythology. In Hindu mythology, the third Avatar of Vishnu was Varaha, a boar. Folklore, in the Forest of Dean, England, tells of a giant boar, known as the Beast of Dean, which terrorized villagers in the early 19th century. Richard III used the white boar as his personal device and badge. In Asia, the wild boar is one of the twelve animal images comprising the Chinese zodiac. In the story The Boar (novel) by American writer Joe R. Lansdale, a young boy hunts a large boar in East Texas during the Great Depression.
Wild boar and feral hogs have become a serious economical management issue throughout North America, particularly in Texas and California, where they cause agricultural and environmental damage. A conservative estimate of the cost of wild pig damage to agriculture and the environment in the United States currently stands at $1.5 billion annually, with $400 million in damage in Texas alone. Further, they pose a significant threat to native plants and wildlife.
Potential for disease transmission exists when feral hogs are associated with domestic livestock. Cholera, swine brucellosis, trichinosis, foot and mouth disease, African swine fever, and pseudorabies are all diseases that may be transmitted to livestock.
Hopefully, damage control through hunting and trapping programs will help to offset or mitigate some of their destruction.
James M. Hale is a wildlife biologist and Vice Chair of the Contra Costa Fish and Wildlife Committee