Scientists are seeking help in tracking down a new invasive species in Ontario

There’s a new invasive species rooting its way across parts of Southern Ontario, and it comes equipped with razor-sharp tusks: the Eurasian boar. Wild boars were introduced to Ontario in 2001 as livestock. Unfortunately, some have escaped and, based on the damage caused by escaped boars in Saskatchewan and several U.S. states, wildlife experts are extremely concerned about a wild population getting established in Ontario. 

“They are a terribly destructive animal,” says Keith Munro, a wildlife biologist with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters. “They eat the roots of plants, so they rip up the vegetation and soil.” When scent-marking their territory, they use their tusks—which are actually protruding canine teeth—to girdle tree bark, eventually killing the plants. 

The opportunistic omnivores also prey on native wildlife, including reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, and the eggs of ground-nesting birds, such as the endangered bobwhite quail. 

Further, the boars are vectors for a number of diseases and disease-causing parasites, including rabies, anthrax, and giardia, and can transport the seeds of non-native vegetation—also invasive—on their coats or in their feces. 

Finally, with adults weighing an average of 70 to 100 kg (150 to 220 lbs.) and sporting those curved tusks, they can also be dangerous to humans, particularly when injured or if they feel cornered. While rare, there are numerous recorded fatalities from boar attacks around the world, along with countless accounts of attacks on pets and livestock.

“We know from other places where wild boar are non-native that their populations can grow and spread relatively fast. They have a high reproductive rate and few predators,” says Erin Koen, a research scientist with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. Sows can have up to two litters a year, with each litter ranging from four to 12 piglets. 

Compounding the problem is that boars can and do breed with escaped domesticated pigs, producing a hybrid species. Collectively, the three breeds are referred to as “wild pigs.”  

Currently, there are no accurate estimates of how many wild pigs there are in Ontario. “We think there’s potential for a real problem, and we need to get ahead of it,” says Munro. To do that, the province is calling on residents to report any sightings using the free iNaturalist app, or by emailing MNRF-SpeciesConservationPolicyBranch@ontario.ca

To date, there have been 21 observations of wild pigs recorded through the app, with sightings all across Southern Ontario, from London in the southwest to east of Ottawa and as far north as Algonquin Provincial Park. 

 

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